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Inkstone and Fitted Silver Box, 10th-11th century. Duan stone and sheet silver. Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton 2003.200.2a-c ©2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

It is extremely rare for an ancient inkstone to survive with its fitted box, and this example, with its silver pedestal base and cover is a testament to the high status accorded writing implements by China’s scholar class.

The stone used here for the grinding palette is the fine-grained, purplish-gray tuan stone from Guangdong province in south China. It is carved in the outline of the wind character (feng) with a flat, grinding surface sloping down to a water well enclosed by a raised border. This shape is also referred to as the « winnowing basket » shape and it was a popular inkstone throughout the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1280).

The lidded pedestal base is pierced on all four sides with wide oval openings of ogee-bracket form. It, and its domed cover, is fashioned entirely from sheet silver. Silver and gold utensils were popular amongst Tang and Liao aristocracy particularly for special items. A similarly shaped inkstone and lidded pedestal base are clearly illustrated in the famous mural paintings in Chang Wen-tsao’s tomb, excavated between 1974 and 1993 in Hebei province and dated to 1093.