A rare yellowish-grey and black jade stem cup
Western Han Dynasty
The deep tubular 'U'-shaped body carved in low relief with several registers of various decorative bands including a ground of 'C'-shaped scrolls, incised floral and geometric scrolls, and lappets, all raised on a tall and waisted cabriole foot with a wide circular base, the mottled stone of a yellowish-grey tone with black inclusions.
11.3cm (4.1/2in) high
Jade cups of this particular form are exceedingly rare. Vessels such as the present lot were not simply luxury objects that indicated wealth and rank, but also belong to a group of wares closely associated with longevity and the search of immortality.
Using the excavated example of a very similar jade tubular cup found in the tomb of the King of Nanyue, which was buried with a lobed jade stand attached to a bronze basin, scholars also suggest it is likely a dew-collecting object associated with immortality elixirs, see National Treasures - Gems of China's Cultural Relics, Hong Kong, 1997, pp.192-193.
Due to its translucency and hardness, jade was an incredibly prized material and a symbol of durability, believed to possess powers of protection. Liquid collected in jade vessels was thus understood to be imbued with magical qualities, resulting in a potion that grants immortality. It is recorded in the Shiji that Emperor Wudi of Han, in his fervent search for immortality, ordered the construction of a device for collecting dew drops in the Jian Zhang Palace. See J.C.Lin, The Search for Immortality, Tomb Treasures of Han China, Cambridge, 2012, p.288.
The search for immortality was popular and an important preoccupation among the Han dynasty's powerful and elite, proliferated by the spread and prominence of Daoist sects by the mid-2nd century. The abundance of various jade objects, including whole jade burial suits, interred in royal tombs and of other powerful individuals, demonstrates how significant the quest for immortality was.
Compare the excavated jade cup of very similar form, from the tomb of the King of Nanyue, excavated at Xianggangshan in Guangzhou, dated Western Han dynasty, illustrated by J.C.Lin, ibid., p.288, no.164. Two other very similar cups were excavated, including one from the Luobowan MI tomb in Guixian, Guangxi, and another dated to the Qin dynasty from the Epang Palace site at Chezhangcun in Xi'an city, see ibid. See another related example in the Aurora Art Museum Collection, illustrated by Cai Qingliang in Jades of Han dynasty, Taipei, 2005, pl.144.
1983年在廣東省廣州市象崗山出土了一件承露盤玉高足杯，為南越王墓的隨葬品，其玉杯造型與本器相似但尺寸較大，據說用於夜間承接露水。《史記封禪書》曾出一典故，說及漢武帝欲求長生，在建章宮前建造「柏梁台」，鑄銅為柱，頂端有仙人伸掌承露盤來承接天上降下的露水，所謂「甘露」，加入玉屑調製成「玉露」來飲服，以求得仙道，達致不老長生。請詳閱《國寶 中國歷史文物精華展》，香港，1997年，頁192-193；和J.C.Lin編，《The Search for Immortality, Tomb Treasures of Han China》，劍橋，2012年，頁288。