Published Mar 20 2013, by

Octagonal box and cover with stand

In Chinese lore, rock crystal is considered an auspicious element. A naturally occurring mineral of exceptional clarity, it was believed to be petrified ice that had somehow survived the ravages of time. Because it is colorless, the artists of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) found it an ideal foil for a wide variety of vibrantly colored materials, especially bronze and zitan wood, a rare purple sandalwood native to southern China and Southeast Asia.

This work demonstrates the refined use of the transparency of rock crystal in a unified decorative scheme. The box and cover were carved from a single piece of crystal and, in lieu of incised, raised relief or painted adornment, the artist has left the smooth contours of the piece undecorated. This decision not only accentuated the exceptional clarity of the rock crystal but also amplified the quality of the relief decoration on the matching zitan-wood stand. The shape of this stand is perfectly proportioned to support the base of the box snugly. The outer and upper surfaces are decorated with an intricate design of openwork vines and foliage around a central, stylized chrysanthemum flower. The extreme rarity of this work lies not so much in the high quality and crafts­manship of each component, but rather in the fact that box and cover have managed to survive intact together with their stand.