The distinctive shape of this vessel is based on an archaic bronze prototype which was used to hold artist's materials. Colored pigments were kept in the tubular compartments at each corner which were subdivided by wooden splats, while the central compartment held a saucer and water for mixing the colors.
A similar example in green jade in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji, vol. 6, Hebei, 1991, pl. 89.