The Master of the Rocks School seems to have specialized in carvings from this distinctive material. The School's main output was bottles carved with landscape designs, but many other subjects are recorded, including a few with chi dragon designs which may have been partly produced for the Court. The quality of carving and the use of material of the present bottle are typical of this School.
The material favored by the Master of the Rocks School was referred to by Zhao Zhiqian in the late Qing period as "yellow steamed-chestnut" and by modern collectors as "han" jade. The main source of nephrite for the Chinese was the Kunlun Mountains which form the boundary between Xinjiang province and Tibet. Until the mining of raw material took flight 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 natural surface staining.
A comparable example of the same size and similar use of a large area of dark skin from the Blanche B. Exstein Collection was sold at Christie’s New York, 21 March 2002, lot 158. For other examples of snuff bottles from the Master of the Rocks School, see lots 228, 272, 313 and Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, the Mary and George Bloch Collection, Volume 1, pp. 350-369 nos. 136-141.