On the upper convex surface of this beautifully carved ivory wrist rest is a scene of three geese on a river bank looking up at a fourth goose that flies in from the upper left. The theme of birds on a river bank with some of the birds on the ground and at least one flying above is a popular one in the Chinese works of art of the 18th century - particularly the Qianlong reign. This motif, of geese standing on a river bank and flying overhead, seen on the current wrist rest, can be seen on the convex surface of another Qianlong ivory wrist rest illustrated in Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, p. 55, no. I-43. The Taipei wrist rest, which, like the current example, is shaped as if it were fashioned from a segment of bamboo, has a scene of the Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion on its concave side, and also bears an inscription dating it to the equivalent of AD 1739.
The subject of geese on the river bank, often depicting one goose flying to join its mate on a sand bank with reeds, has a long history in Chinese painting, and can be seen as early as the Northern Song dynasty in versions of Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers, the earliest of which appears to have been painted by Song Di (c. 1015-c. 1080). It seems likely that it was a Ming dynasty painting of this subject, preserved in the Imperial collection, that provided some of the inspiration for both the current ivory wrist rest and the imperial Qianlong enameled porcelain and metalwork vessels decorated with this theme. That Ming painting by Lu Ji (fl. 1439-1505), entitled Wild Geese and Wagtails on an Autumn Islet, preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei is illustrated in Gugong Shuhua tulu [Illustrated Catalogue of Painting and Calligraphy in the National Palace Museum], vol. 7, p. 179. Like the current ivory depiction, this painting has a strong diagonal division in the composition reminiscent of Southern Song paintings, and one of the geese in the lower right of the composition looks up to the left as if searching the skies for its mate. A very similar composition can be seen on an 18th century ivory wrist rest in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which has a design of the Eighteen Luohan Crossing the Sea on the concave side, illustrated in Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing, London, 1984, p, 138, no. 151. See, also, no. 152, where a second flying goose appears on the convex side of an 18th century ivory wrist rest in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
While the pictorial attraction of this theme is obvious, its popularity can also be explained by the symbolism incorporated in the subject. Geese mate for life and so are often associated with weddings. Geese are also mentioned in the Liji [Book of Rites] as coming as guests for the autumn, and have come to be associated with longevity.
On the concave reverse of the current wrist rest is a superbly carved arrangement of lotus and bamboo. The choice of these plants would have been intended to pay a compliment to the scholar who used the wrist rest, since the bamboo is a symbol of integrity. The Chinese word for the joints of the bamboo is jie, which is also the word for integrity. It is also probably why this wrist rest and other ivory wrist rests of the same period were carved to look like a piece of bamboo, with special attention given to the carving of the bamboo joint at the bottom of the rest. Bamboo is a symbol of peace, and also of peaceful tidings. The lotus is also a symbol of peace, since one of its names is he, a homophone for the word for harmony. In addition, the lotus is a symbol of purity, since it rises unsullied from the mud.