Wang Weikao, Ink Stick in Seal Form, 18th century, Qing dynasty. Pine soot and animal adhesive, 1 1/8 x 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. (2.86 x 8.26 x 8.26 cm). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2000.36.9. Minneapolis Institute of Arts © 2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Cleverly moulded in the form of a large official seal, this ink cake has a pair of dragons cavorting amonst waves on its top. The reverse side, shown here, displays a Ming-style imperial seal-script legend in four large characters, T’ien-fu yung-ts’ang meaning, « eternal collection of the heavenly palace, » This stick conforms in shape and concept to ink cakes made by the mid-eighteenth century ink maker, Wang Weikao.
Ink Stone and Cover, 2nd-3rd century. Duan stone, 3 7/16 x 3 x 11/16 in. (8.73 x 7.62 x 1.75 cm) (irregular). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2000.34.3a,b. Minneapolis Institute of Arts © 2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Ink stones began to be carved with decorative designs at least as early as Song. This has a cover decorated in classic Song style with an enframed hibiscus blossom. Relatively naturalistic, the design was likely inspired from similar themes found in contemporary album and fan paintings. Small double compartment inkstones such as this were often used to grind the colored pigments used in paintings.
Almsbowl, c. 1100, Song dynasty. Lacquer on wood core. H.4 x Dia.8-3/16 in. Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2000.87.3. Minneapolis Institute of Arts © 2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The almsbowl was one of the few essential possessions of a Buddhist monk specified in the Vinaya, the sixth century BCE code of Buddhist monastic practice. Simple monochromatic vessels like this, based on clay Indian prototypes, symbolized the monks’ vow of poverty. Of perfectly rounded form, with sides rising from a round base and curving inward to a wide rimless mouth, this bowl is the epitomy of refined elegance and Song taste. The oldest surviving lacquered almsbowls are eighth century examples preserved in the Shosoin Repository in Nara, Japan. This extremely rare bowl appears to be the most refined in form and finish of all recorded examples and has been dated by carbon-14 analysis of its wooden core to about 1100 CE.
Wang Chin-sheng, Commemorative Ink Cake, 1844, Qing dynasty. Lampblack and organic binders, 5/8 x 5-5/8 x 5-5/8 in. (1.6 x 14.3 x 14.3 cm). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2001.138.7. Minneapolis Institute of Arts © 2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
This finely detailed ink cake designed by Wang Chin-sheng is decorated with a low relief landscape painting and poem after the great literatus Wen Cheng-ming (1470-1559) on one side and with cavorting dragons and a poetic inscription by the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736-95) on the reverse.
The poem by Wen reads:
An elegant pavilion at the turn of the stream;
The pine tops crane out of the woods.
Fallen leaves drift away on the water,
Autumn’s colors stay completely covering the fragrant mountain.
The emperor’s poem states:
Examining his book under a pine tree,
Clutching his stick he crosses the bridge.
If there is no servant boy sent to meet him,
A crane will come to greet him instead.
The voice of the spring falls with the wind;
The sound of the stream rises with the clouds.
In this scene of the immortal’s terraces.
Beauties walk back and forth.
Respectfully copied by your servant, Kuan Huai.
The relief inscription on the ink’s edge dates it to 1844 and records the maker’s name as Wang Chin-sheng. This is a 19th century descendant of the famous 18th century Anhui ink maker of the same name. He has apparently carried on the use of his famous ancestor’s name in the family business.
Hexagonal Box with Cover, late 14th-early 15th century, Ming dynasty. Black and red carved lacquer (tixi), 3 3/4 x 7 x 7 in. (9.5 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton 2001.68.8a,b. Minneapolis Institute of Arts © 2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The shape and style of this elegant hexagonal box with its inverted corners dates it to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century. Two layers of red are barely visible in the rich black lacquer. The style of carving is very close to standard Yuan dynasty tixi lacquer of the early fourteenth century, but instead of the v-shaped troughs of the earlier style, these pommel scrolls are more gently rounded and the troughs are u-shaped. Dishes and boxes with foliated shapes enjoyed great popularity during Yuan and early Ming. Probably based on the shape of the hollyhock flower, the cover is carved with a central hexafoil floret surrounded by concentric rows of six and twelve pommel scrolls, and the lobed sides are decorated with twelve further pommel scrolls completing a very attractive and unified design. Beautiful, light, and durable, these boxes held all manner of things and were also exchanged as fine gifts and treasured as fine heirlooms.