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Jade water container in the form of a dragon-headed tortoise

AnonymousMing dynasty (1368 - 1644)

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Hong Kong Museum of Art

This water container is carved from greenish-white jade with mottled brown patches. According to legend, it is an auspicious animal, bearing a tortoise shell, a dragon's head, flame-like brows, a single horn, rolled ears, bulging eyes, a scaly body and neck, and five claws.

The base is also carved with swirling patterns, like waves that radiate from the centre of the shell to the rim. On its back are hexagonal patterns framed by clouds and thunder, with a prominent ridge through the middle. There is also a round indentation to hold water.

Ming carvings of auspicious animals all share the same characteristics of bulging eyes and truncated snouts. Yet this water container is impressive for its size and exquisite craftsmanship. The wave pattern on the base is typical of 16th century jade carvings.

Jade is highly regarded in China, particularly when it has a rich, warm hue and is finely carved. Jade ware also has many functions. Since ancient times, it has been used for ritual wares, tools, jewellery and burial objects.

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