Chinese large jade pebble carved as a recumbent two-horned qilin resting amongst ruyi-clouds supporting a book wrapped in a closed box secured on the front by tabs, resting on its haunches, the body with detailed work to the spine, mane, tail and scales, the back legs and split hooves neatly tucked underneath.

The stone probably burnt of white opaque colour with black, russet and other markings.

4 7/8 inches, 12.4 cm long; 3 5/8 inches, 9.2 cm deep.

Early Ming dynasty, 15th/16th century.


Natural cracks and small open crack on tail.

Provenance & Additional Information

  • Sold by Louis Joseph, 28 Knightsbridge, London, 1960-1985, by repute.
  • Included by Marchant in their 95th Anniversary Exhibition of The Lobl Collection of Chinese Jades, 2020, no. 7, pp. 20/21.
  • Another burnt jade qilin with a book also dated to the Ming dynasty was included in Jade Blossom, an exhibition of the Xu Collection at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, 2010, pp. 52/3; another was included by Marchant in their 80th anniversary exhibition of Chinese Jades from Han to Qing, 2005, no. 64, p. 66.
  • A qilin looking back with a book on its back amongst clouds is illustrated by Roger Keverne in Jade, fig. 67, p. 154 and by Marchant in their 70th anniversary exhibition of Post-Archaic Chinese Jades, 1995, no. 96, p. 68; another in The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, with a book at its side is illustrated by James C. S. Lin in The Immortal Stone, Chinese Jades from the Neolithic period to the twentieth century, no. 43, p. 54, where the author notes, “It was not until the Yuan dynasty and onwards that qilin started to appear on blue and white porcelain. During the Ming period, the appearance of a qilin underwent a marked change: the head became that of a dragon, with its customary two horns, and the tail became the flame-like tail of the Buddhist lion”; another, in the Qing Court Collection is illustrated by Zhang Guangwen in Jade Ware (III), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Beijing, no. 94, p. 114 and front cover, where it mentions that a qilin usually has the hooves of an ox and the tail of a lion; another is included by Yang Boda in the exhibition of A Romance with Jade from the De An Tang Collection, Palace Museum, 2004, no. 78, p. 137; another was included by Brian Morgan in Naturalism & Archaism: Chinese Jades from the Kirknorton Collection, no. 43.
  • The subject is known as qilin xian rui or “a qilin presenting an auspicious object”. Here it is Book of Knowledge, tianshu. Another rebus where the qilin has a book is lin tu yu shu, “may you give birth to an illustrious son”. Prior to the birth of Confucius, it is recorded that his mother saw a qilin with a jade book.