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Hye-shim Yi. From Epigraphy to Inscribing Objects: Recarving Ancient Relics into Inkstones

Literati in China began to engage in making inkstones as early as the Song dynasty (960–1279). The artist Mi Fu (1051–1157), who was an aficionado of ‘strange stones’ (guaishi), mentioned his carvings of inkstones multiple times in his treatise The History of Inkstones (Yan shi) (Mi, 1985). When this age-old cultural practice merged with ‘the study of metal and stone’ (jinshixue) during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), a particular type of inkstone became increasingly popular, namely inkstones carved from ancient inscribed relics, including bricks and eaves tiles. Ancient eaves tiles, such as those from the Bronze Sparrow Terrace (Tongque tai) of the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) in Yecheng (in present-day Hebei province), were first recarved into inkstones by professional stone carvers no later than the Tang dynasty (618–907). This type of inkstone became extremely popular during the Qing, when inscribed bricks and eaves tiles were actively excavated and collected as primary sources for epigraphic studies. Because bricks and tiles with the same inscriptions were relatively abundant, and because the surviving bricks and tiles were frequently broken and damaged, they were often refashioned into inkstones rather than preserved intact. As such, they came to serve as both research materials and functional objects within a scholar’s studio.

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November/December 2020
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