A small jade carving of a fish

Ming dynasty or earlier

The naturalistically carved fish with bulging eyes and curling fins and tail is detailed with finely incised scales. A circular aperture runs through the body from the mouth to the tail. The stone is of pale celadon tone with dark russet areas.

5.5 cm wide

Provenance:

Formerly in the collection of Jan Habbema, acquired in Indonesia prior to 1936, thence by descent in the family.

Jan Habbema formed a vast collection of Chinese art whilst stationed as a high official in Bojonegoro, Indonesia, until 1936.

The style and carving of this fish, similar to various examples of the Song and Yuan dynasties has protruding eyes and a small round perforation through the length of its body, which suggests that it is of later date. The horizontal perforation was probably intended for a cord, so that it could be suspended from a belt or attached to an object. Jades with vertical apertures, also known from the Han dynasty, were probably used as support for a vessel.

Fish, yu, has the same pronunciation as abundance, surplus, or plenty, yu, and thus is a pun for wealth and abundance. Another interpretation is that of rank. During the Tang dynasty (618-906), officials of the fifth rank and above wore ornaments in the shape of a fish. The fish was a symbol of rank as well as a pass to enter the court precinct. As fish often swim in pairs, they are also symbols of connubial bliss.


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