Lot 340A rare hardstone-inset gold 'pomegranate' box and cover, Qing dynasty. Length 4 3/4  in., 12.2 cm. Estimate 100,000 — 150,000 USDLot sold 125,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

made in the outline of a ripe pomegranate, the motif reinforced by pink tourmaline carved to resemble seeds inset on the cover, further inset with turquoise, lapis lazuli, jade, rose quartz, agate, and foil-backed crystal, all carved to create the design of a leafy vine sprouting tendrils and bearing fruit, the remaining surfaces of the box and cover covered with a gold filigree floral diaper.

Provenance: A.C. de Frey, Paris, France.

NoteThis ornate box and cover is a fine example of gold containers likely made for the personal use of the imperial family. The box is expertly crafted, with the thick gold body covered with thin gold ribbons laid to form a floral diaper and incised on top to look like twisted wire. The box and cover are in the outline of a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility because it contains numerous seeds, representing sons. The seeds in the present lot are carved from pink tourmaline, the color and translucency closely resembling the seeds of the actual fruit.

The motif of large and small fruit hanging from vines also alludes to fertility and progeny, forming the rebus guadie mianmian (multitudes of large and small gourds).  The vines spreading out laden with full, ripe fruit full of seeds, represents the sons of the family branching out and perpetuating the family line.

The luxurious materials used to make this box and the fertility symbolism indicate that it may have belonged to one of the emperor's consorts, who would have been eager to bear the emperor a son in order to strengthen her own position within the court.

For examples of Qing dynasty gold containers see three Qianlong period boxes inlaid with precious stones on a gold filigree ground illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Miniature Crafts in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1971, pl. 41; and two boxes included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Arts of the Ch'ing Dynasty, London, 1964, cat. no. 355 and cat. no. 356, which sold in our London rooms, 21st June 1983, lot 15, from the collections of Her Late Majesty Queen Mary and H.M. Knight. Two gold examples in the Palace Museum collection, which are dated Qing, are illustrated in Treasures of Imperial Court: The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2004, nos. 193 and 194; and a Yongzheng / Qianlong period example was sold in our Hong Kong rooms 8th October 2013, lot 3154.

Another box with craftsmanship and design very similar to the present lot, but in the shape of a double-gourd, inset with with stones in the shape of smaller double-gourds, dated Qing dynasty, is on display in the Zhenbao gallery of the Palace Museum.

Sotheby's. Important Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 march 2015