Lot 3306. A rare imperial ivory and bamboo-veneer melon-shaped box and cover, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 12.5 cm., 4 7/8 in. Estimate 1,800,000 — 2,500,000 HKDLot Sold 2,180,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

the oval-shaped melon oriented on its side divided lengthwise into evenly spaced segments by furrows, the cover embellished with green-stained ivory leaves and tendrils and two small rock crystal butterflies, the box similarly deocorated with the green stem issuing from one end, the bamboo with a natural golden orange patina, the interior painted blue, the side with a palace inventory label reading yibai sanshier hao, sang di si hao (number 132, box 4).

Note: Bamboo boxes created in the form of vegetation are rare; compare a box in the form of finger citron similarly inlaid with dyed leaves and butterflies, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, published in The Palace Museum Collection of Elite Carvings, Beijing, 2004, pl. 48; and another in the shape of a double lotus seedpod, in the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Bamboo, Wood, Ivory, Rhinceros Horn Carvings, Shanghai, 2001, pl. 75.

Expertly crafted in bamboo-veneer (tiehuang), this technique was developed during the Qianlong reign and enabled craftsmen to break free from the confines of the circular shape of the bamboo stem to produce a broad range of objects of various shapes. The process involved taking the inner wall of the bamboo stem which is of a lighter yellow colouration and applying it over a wood core which is then left plain or carved in shallow relief to achieve an elaborate, often two-tone, effect.  

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 08 april 2011