Buddhism was the state religion of the Qing dynasty, and the Qianlong emperor was a devout practitioner of the faith. His powerful devotion to Buddhism was readily carried over into works of art made during his reign. Jades, ceramics, textiles, bronzes and other items readily incorporated Buddhist subject matter and symbolism.
The current bowl features the bajixiang, the Eight Auspicious Buddhist Emblems, perhaps the most readily identifiable of the symbols found in Buddhist iconography. The bajixiang represent the offerings made to the Buddha Shakyamuni by the gods immediately after his enlightenment. These emblems can be briefly translated as follows: The Wheel of the Law (falun), the inexorable expansion of the Buddha's teaching; the Conch Shell (luo), majesty, the voice of the Buddha; the Umbrella (san), spiritual authority, reverence; the Canopy (gai), royal grace; the Lotus (hua), purity; the Vase (ping), eternal harmony, vessel of the nectar of immortality; the Paired Fish (shuangyu), conjugal happiness, fertility, protection, spiritual liberation; and the Endless Knot (chang), eternity.
The pronounced lobed form of the present bowl is particularly unusual, with most published examples of marriage bowls being of circular form. A spinach-green jade marriage bowl from the Alan and Simone Hartman Collection, similarly decorated on the exterior with the bajixiang, was sold at Christie's New York, 26 March 2010, lot 1140.