In China’s history, there were two major peaks of intense antiquarian interest, the first during the Northern Song dynasty, 11th-12th centuries, and the second during the late Ming-early Qing dynasty, 16th-18th centuries. See Jenny So, “Impressions of Times Past: Chinese Jades of the 12th and 17th Centuries.” The Woolf Jade Lecture, 16 March 2010, published in Transaction of the Oriental Ceramic Society 74 (2009-2010), 2011, pp. 75-88.
The fascination with the art of the ancient past is reflected in the form of this exquisite yellow jade vessel and cover, which is based on bronze prototypes of Han dynasty date (206 BC-AD 220), such as the two bronze fanghu illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – Bronze Articles from Daily Use, Hong Kong, 2006, pp. 68-9, nos. 59-60.
A very similar, but larger (11 cm.) yellow jade fanghu-form jar and cover in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated by Yang Boda (ed.), Chinese Jades Throughout the Ages: Connoisseurship of Chinese Jades, vol. 12, Qing dynasty, Hong Kong, 1997, pp. 82-3, pl. 41, where it is date to the mid-Qing period. Close comparison of the Bejing Palace fanghu and the Junkunc fanghu does, however, reveal notable differences. The Junkunc fanghu is smaller in size, and the proportions are more elegant and subtle. The handles on the Junkunc fanghu also appear to be more finely executed than those on the Palace Beijing fanghu, and the polish of the stone also appears to be softer.
The smaller size, more restrained proportions and more meticulous craftsmanship of the Junkunc fanghu may indicate an earlier dating than the Beijing Palace fanghu, possibly as early as the Southern Song-Yuan period, when refined archaistic jade vessels of this miniature size were produced to meet the growing taste for scholar’s objects by the educated literati. J. So, “Impressions of Times Past: Chinese Jades of the 12th and 17th Centuries,” op. cit., p. 77, illustrates two such Southern Song examples: a miniature jade you (fig. 2a), 6.8 cm. high, carved with archaistic designs, from the tomb of Zhu Xiyun (d. 1201), Anhui, Xiuning, Anhui Provincial Museum, and a miniature jade hu, 7.1 cm. high, from the tomb of Fan Wenhu (d. 1301), Anhui, Anqing, Anhui Provincial Museum, which, like the Junkunc fanghu, features elegant, restrained proportions and minimal surface decoration. As noted by So, pp. 76-7, these small jade containers were produced as refined objects for private consumption, displayed as precious novelties, elegant symbols of a scholar’s link with a bygone era. They would have been quite acceptable substitutes for the genuine antiquity, and treasured as ‘literati playthings (wenwan)’ to grace the scholar’s studio.”