East Asia, China, Qing dynasty, ca. 18th to 19th century CE. Finely carved from a sizeable piece of translucent jade of celadon and seafoam green hues with natural chocolate brown veins/inclusions, a mythological lion-fish comprised of a lower piscatorial body covered with meticulously incised scales and terminating in a fishtail, an expressive lion head with its young cub riding behind, clenching its mother's back with its teeth, its endearing long tail curled above the wavy waters. The composition is fine throughout with a softly polished finish. The piece is carved on both sides, and may have served as a paperweight for a scholar's desk. Size: 6.75" L x 3.125" W (17.1 cm x 7.9 cm)
Many scholars refer to the Chinese mythological lion as a Dog or Fo. Shishi in Japanese, China introduced these to Japan in the 17th and 18th centuries. Given that this piece includes so-called foo dogs which represent guardian lions, the piece was probably intended to protect the scholar who owned it. Interestingly lion head goldfish were bred in China to mimic the mythical lion-dog.
Chinese art has incorporated jade since the Neolithic period; quarries for nephrite, the formal name for jade, have been found in modern-day southern Mongolia that date to ca. 4000 BCE. The stone was prized for its hardness, its beautiful coloration (with a milky white being the most desired), and its durability. By the third millennium BCE, we know that jade had also come to be associated with immortality. Jade was used to make everything from everyday household objects and decoration to the ceremonial suits in which Han dynasty emperors were buried – with the belief that jade would preserve the body and the soul for eternity.
Provenance: ex-prominent NY, USA private collection; T. Ashley
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