The panels, front and back, show a jade deer kneeling in a Taihu rock formation. These limestone rocks with naturally formed crevices were dredged from Lake Tai in Jiangsu province, and are traditionally used as decorations in Chinese gardens. Growing out from the rocky crevices are blooming narcissus and fungi of immortality. The jade insert shows a pair of cranes preening on another rock formation, and a peach branching hanging from above.
The back of the screen depicts a gnarled pine tree. In Chinese symbolism, the deer, cranes, rocks, peaches and pine trees are all symbols of longevity. The incised and gold-filled poems on the screen describe these symbols of longevity. They were composed by the Qianlong emperor, and the calligraphy was executed by Yu Minzhong (1714-1780). Yu was a powerful official of the Qianlong period, a friend of the emperor and the editor of his poems.
Small screens such as this example were made to ornament scholar's desks. This example is particularly beautiful for its hardwood carving in combination with jade inlays and gold calligraphy, inserted into a finely carved stand.
Hardwood inset with greyish nephrite
Qing dynasty, Qianlong period
18th century CE; Qing dynasty