This very distinctively shaped vessel carved in imitation of an archaic bronze form, was used to hold artist's materials. Coloured pigments were kept in the tubular compartments at each corner subdivided by wooden splats, while the central compartment held a saucer and water for mixing the colours.
Similar examples in the Palace Museum, Beijing are illustrated in Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji, 6, Hebei Meishu Chupanshe, 1991, pls. 89 & 90.
Compare a jadeite vessel of similar form bearing a yuzhi mark sold at Chrisitie's Hong Kong, 28 April, 1996, lot 12; and another from the T.Y.Chao Collection sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 24-25 October 1993, lot 1014.