In jadeite, the green results from the inclusion of chromium in place of aluminum, while the lavender color originates from manganese or vanadium. The carving of jadeite, as with other hardstones, challenged the Imperial lapidaries to use the best areas of color and texture. In this bottle, the emerald-green suffusion is skillfully adapted to form the basket and the flowers are contrasted in lavender-blue. See the footnote to lot 222 for a brief discussion of the popularity of jadeite during the mid-Qing period.
A basket containing flowers is an attribute of Lan Caihe, one of the Eight Immortals, hence a symbol of longevity. The hibiscus (mufurong) is one of the nine flowers of autumn, and is a pun for "wealth" (fu) and "glory" (rong). The lily (baihe) is noted for its stately blossom, and is also a symbol for harmony and unity, as its Chinese name is a pun for "hundred" (bai) and "togetherness" or "union" (he). The orchid symbolizes the integrity of the gentleman-scholar.
The present bottle is a highly prized combination of two of the most sought-after colors in a single specimen of jadeite. The expert carving of one of the most popular motifs on court bottles implies it was made for Imperial use. Baskets of flowers also appear in enamels on glass, metal and carved glass. See the exhibition catalogue Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 20 October-3 December 1978, p. 56, nos. 29 and 30, for two examples in enamels on glass, and p. 67, no. 62, for a carved glass example in pale Imperial yellow.
See another very rare emerald-green and lavender jadeite bottle in C. Lawrence, Miniature Masterpieces from the Middle Kingdom. The Monimar Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles, pp. 182-83, no. 85, carved in the form of a melon with two butterflies. Another carved with ducks and egrets in a pond, formerly from the Blanche B. Exstein Collection, was sold in our New York rooms, 21 March 2002, lot 238.