This extraordinary bottle is typical of the Master of the Rocks School, featuring the popular subject matter of the Four Professions (represented here by two of them - a common practice with this School) and characteristic carving of rocks and trees. It stands apart because of its integral snuff dish, to date the only one of the School to have one, and the evenness and richness of the black coloring. Although unlikely as a natural color, the black permeates well into the stone, which seems unlikely for staining. Black jade was highly sought after, and this example is one of the most intense in color. However, staining was a standard option for the post-Song jade carver, and one frequently used, either to create or enhance a pebble-skin, or to suggest the highly valued black jade of the ancients.
Until the mining of raw material became more common in the late sixteenth century, jade merchants relied on pebbles carried by the two main rivers originating in the Kunlun Mountains and flowing on either side of Khotan. For centuries, the Chinese relied on this traditional method of gathering raw material, and despite the advent of mining in the late sixteenth century, it was not until the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century that Chinese jade connoisseurs overcame their prejudice against mined material. However, the long history of reverence for jade pebbles has meant that the Chinese have continued to use the weathered and discolored skin of pebbles and boulders in their carvings. This even led to the Qianlong Emperor issuing instructions to artificially stain jade in order to give pure material the impression of a pebble source.
For two examples of yellowish-green and russet-brown jade snuff bottles from the Master of the Rocks school, see Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 1, Jade, nos. 138 and 139.