The lapidary who carved this spectacular jade vase has gone to great lengths to replicate the form of the original bronze fang zun vessel, including the intricate vertical flanges and the low relief decoration of blades and taotie masks. The craftsmen faced an additional challenge in that he created an internal flange with relatively small central hole, which would have enabled any flowers put in the vase to remain upright, but would have made the task of hollowing out the jade even more difficult. Despite this the lapidary has succeeded in hollowing the vessel evenly and allowing the translucency and excellent colour of the vessel to be fully appreciated.
Ancient bronze vessels became popular for use as flower vases amongst the literati during the Ming dynasty, and Zhang Chou (1577-1643) in his Pinghua Pu (Manual of Vases and flowers) wrote that:
'Ancient bronze vases and vessels, after being long buried in the soil are deeply affected by the energy of the earth. When using them for flower arrangements, the flowers' colours will be fresh and vibrant; they will blossom sooner and wilt later, and when they wilt they will start fruiting in the vase.' (translated by Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things - Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China, Cambridge, 1991, p.44)
The notion of the material being 'deeply affected by the energy of the earth' applies equally to jade, and in the Qing period jade flower vases in ancient bronze form came to be greatly appreciated. The mouths of the original ancient bronze forms were frequently quite flared, which would have created problems for the display of flowers if only one or two stems were used, as was often the case in a scholar's studio. The gu vase depicted in the Portrait of Emperor Qianlong in Ancient Costume, illustrated by Nie Chongzheng in Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, no. 45, has been fitted with an interior liner with smaller mouth in order to display the single stems of orchid and prunus attractively. The internal flange of the current vessel obviates the necessity for a separate liner, which would have detracted from appreciation of the translucence of the beautiful jade stone.
Compare the slightly larger Imperial white jade archaistic vase (gu), also with the unusual inner flange and carved from a single piece of jade, which was sold in these Rooms, 4 November 2008, lot 13.