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


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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