The depiction of the twelve zodiac figures is an auspicious one signifying the perpetual harmony heaven and earth throughout the stages of re-incarnation. Together with the character for double-happiness, shuangxi, they would have symbolised highly propitious wishes for a wedding.
The present bowl and cover is extremely rare in many aspects. The only other related white jade bowl and cover similarly decorated with a combination of the twelve zodiac figures around the sides and double xi characters around the cover in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji, vol. 6, Hebei meishu chubanshe, 1991, no. 126.
Despite the importance of astrology in Chinese culture, representations of the twelve zodiac animals and carvings depicting the figures are surprisingly rare, especially in jade. Compare sets of twelve figures carved in the round from the 18th century illustrated in Jadeware (III), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 111; and another set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Investigations and Studies in Jade,i New York, 1906, no. 730. A complete set of the twelve figures from the Alan and Simone Hartman Collection was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, Important Chinese Jades from the Personal Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, 28 November 2006, lot 1416.
The term 'marriage' bowl appears to be an Anglicism and has no counterpart in Chinese. Although the carefully chosen auspicious designs on these bowls are associated with weddings, this particular form is referred to in Chinese as lian and it would probably have been used as a container for jewellery or other articles. Another example of similar form in the Palace Museum, Beijing carved with two registers of double xi characters alternating with the eight Buddhist emblems is illustrated, op. cit., Hebei meishu chubanshe, 1991, no. 127.