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A very rare imperial gilt-bronze knife and white jadeite scabbard. Qing dynasty, early 18th century

the white jadeite scabbard of even tone carved with a intertwining lotus scroll in low-relief, surmounted near the opening by a chilong dragon in high-relief suspending a loose gilt-bronze ring around its neck, the gilt-bronze hilt similarly decorated with matching lotus scrolls, fitted with a green jadeite pommel carved with leiwen, the steel blade cast with a fuller down the middle on each side. 33 cm., 13 in. Estimate 1,000,000—1,500,000 HKD. Lot Sold 1,220,000 HKD

PROVENANCE: Sotheby's New York, 23rd September 1997, lot 11.

NOTE: It is very rare to find a pure white jadeite scabbard so intricately crafted with a matching gilt-bronze handle, which represents a fine example of the high standards of artistic production achieved in the 18th century. Compare a knife of this type with a jade handle and an intricately carved wood scabbard depicting a flowering lotus scroll, from the collection of Dr. Ip Yee, included in the exhibition Bamboo and Wood Carvings of China and the East, Spink and Son Ltd., London, 1979, cat. no. 277 and sold in these rooms, 19th November 1984; another with jade handle and diaper-carved bamboo scabbard, sold at Christie's New York, 21st September 2004, lot 76; and a pair of slightly smaller knives with carved jade handles and scabbards, sold in our London rooms, 7th June 1994, lot 138. A similar gold knife with a white jade handle and inlaid gold sheath was included in the exhibition Splendours of China's Forbidden City, The Field Museum, Chicago, 2004, cat. no. 248, and is pictured in situ, cat. no. 250.

The use of personal knives at meals was a mark of Manchu identity. Manchu men were supposed to cut their meat themselves so as to not fall into the decadent Han Chinese habit of eating their meat pre-cut. When eating sacrificial pork, women were also expected to cut up their own meat. Knives with other eating utensils formed part of the dowries of princesses and even maidservants (see the exhibition catalogue ibid., pp. 197-201).

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art. 08 Apr 09. Hong Kong www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's