The bowl is carved in a simple classic form inspired by the shape of contemporary porcelain bowls, which in turn, complements the unusual colours of the stone. The black, white and grey tones of the material give the impression of swirling incense smoke, suggesting an association with the scholar's brazier and giving the bowl a certain rustic quality, juxtaposed with the elegance of its simple profile. As Robert Kleiner notes op. cit., p. 108, "This combination of the sophisticated and the scholarly within a single work of art was often the ideal of the scholar-collector."
This bowl is exceptionally thinly carved so that the stone is translucent. This technique of carving paper-thin sides on a vessel was inspired by Mughal jades which entered China in considerable numbers during the Qianlong reign. They were highly regarded by the emperor who greatly admired their delicacy and extreme thinness, describing them as 'supernaturally made' and 'devilishly clever'. The Chinese lapidaries working for the court were consequently influenced by this style and as early as 1764, were specifically ordered by Qianlong to copy exactly certain of these foreign jades, or to produce Chinese objects in Mughal style. One of the terms used to describe Chinese jades that were so thinly carved is shui shang piao which likens the vessel to floating on water because it is so light. The present bowl falls into this category. This term was derived during the Qianlong period as well, mostly to describe the quality of snuff bottles. As such, the bowl is remarkable for its light weight and buoyancy, characteristics rarely found on objects larger than snuff bottles.
Another noteworthy feature of the present lot is the use of the yuzhi mark, which denotes that it was made by imperial command. Few jade wares carry reign marks, and the use of the yuzhi designation is especially rare, as it ranks high in the hierarchy of marks, and indicates that the emperor took a particular interest in the production of the piece. Cf. a black and white jade 'bubble' cup carved in relief with a Qianlong yuyong mark, sold in these Rooms, The Imperial Sale, 28 April 1996, lot 10.