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Tortoise Form Water Dropper, 17th century. Bronze with gold and silver inlay, 1 15/16 x 5 1/16 x 2 5/8 in. (4.9 x 12.9 x 6.7 cm). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton 2001.135.7 ©2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Cast after an ancient Han or Six Dynasties (25-618) prototype, this scholar’s water dropper is in the form of a tortoise holding a small cup in its mouth. The creature is surmounted by a snake inlaid with gold and silver strips. In combination, the snake and tortoise represent the north, or the « dark warrior. » In spite of the patterned inlay, the animals are realistically cast. The tortoise is even correctly detailed with scales and plastron on the underside.

A bronze tortoise-form water dropper was recently excavated from a third- or fourth-century tomb in Ch’ing-hai province. In keeping with scholar’s taste for the ancient, this seventeenth-century writing utensil once used on a scholar’s desk must have been based on an ancient prototype.