Each scene on this brushpot represents one of the Four Noble Professions: scholar, farmer, fisherman and woodcutter. This concept originated around the time of the Han dynasty and constitutes what was considered to be the ideal hierarchical system for the lay man.
The form of this brushpot is very rare. An example in the Palace Museum in Beijing, used as a jardiniere, is illustrated in Ming Qing Shinei Chenshe, Beijing, 2004, pl. 39. For further similar examples, see the Qing dynasty white jade brushpot of this form with scenes of children playing, included in the exhibition, The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch'ing Court, National Palace Museum, Taiwan, 1997, pl. 59; an example carved with the four seasons, sold at Sotheby's New York, 19 October 1988, lot 312; and another, made from spinach-green jade, illustrated by Stanley Charles Nott, The Flowery Kingdom, New York, 1947, pl. LXXII.