Evolution of Duan Inkstone System and Decoration

Ming Dynasty Inkstone
Header DynastyHeader FormHeader StyleHeader PatternHeader Exhibit
Tang DynastyDuring the early Tang Dynasty, Duan inkstones, used as writing instruments, had a simple design, with practicality being the priority. The Ji-shaped inkstones were quite notable. After the mid-Tang Dynasty, the designs of Duan inkstones became increasingly diverse. People had formed unique standards for appreciating the quality, types, and craftsmanship of Duan inkstones.There were various shapes including the Ji-shaped, octagonal, rectangular, and square (also known as the Shi Qu inkstones).During the early Tang Dynasty, the surfaces of the inkstones typically had no patterns. However, as the Tang Dynasty progressed, Duan inkstones evolved from practical items to craftworks that combine both practicality and aesthetics.A Ji-shaped inkstone from the Tang Dynasty (from "Duan Xian Da Guan").Tang Dynasty Inkstone
Song DynastyDuring the Song Dynasty, Duan inkstones were both used and admired. Scholars and literati were enthusiastic about appreciating, collecting, and studying Duan inkstones. Compared to previous periods, Song Dynasty Duan inkstones had various shapes, meticulous carvings, and an elegant and neat design, with hand-copied inkstones being the most representative. Due to their excellent stone quality, Duan inkstones became tributes offered to the imperial court.According to Ye Yu's "Duan Xi Yan Pu," there were numerous designs: flat-bottomed, footed, hanging-skirted, Ji-shaped, phoenix pool, four straight edges, ancient four straight edges, double cotton four straight edges, ladle-shaped, clover-shaped, Ji-shaped, axe-shaped, melon-shaped, egg-shaped, wall-shaped, human face, lotus, lotus leaf, fairy peach, tripod-shaped, jade platform, sky polish, wax-shaped, turtle-shaped, curved-shaped, bell-shaped, jade tablet-shaped, bamboo shoot-shaped, ridged, zither-shaped, tomb-shaped, double fish-shaped, moon-shaped, round-shaped, eight-edged handled inkstones, brick inkstones, bamboo joint handled inkstones, inkstone boards, house-shaped, lute-shaped, waist drum, horse hoof, moon pool, Ruan-shaped, Dai-shaped, Lv-shaped, wind character in the zither, and Penglai-shaped.Starting from the Song Dynasty, people started to value the quality and pattern of the inkstone and paid attention to the carving of the inkstone. During this period, Duan inkstones had simple and concise compositions, striving for simplicity and clarity, but also pursuing aesthetic practicality.A Song Dynasty Duan stone hand-copied inkstone (Stored in the Guangdong Provincial Museum).Song Dynasty Inkstone
Ming DynastyDuring the Ming Dynasty, the trend of appreciating and collecting inkstones was prevalent. The craftsmanship of making inkstones inherited the past and innovated, with more diverse shapes and a wide range of decorative themes. Artists used materials skillfully and took advantage of natural shapes, creating simple yet robust designs that were uniquely charming. During this period, the trend of inscribed inkstones became increasingly popular, enriching the artistic value and cultural connotations of Duan inkstones.Building on the foundation of the Tang Dynasty, more inkstone shapes and styles were created, such as egg-shaped, god-axe-shaped, golden bell-shaped, ancient tripod-shaped, ancient zither-shaped, various irregular shapes, melon and fruit shapes, water drain, and flat boards. The primary style of the Ming Dynasty was still the hand-copied inkstone. At the same time, with the increase in natural-shaped inkstones, there were more fine stone flat inkstones.The decorative themes of the Ming Dynasty were quite extensive. At the same time, some literati advocated Duan inkstones that went "natural without carving," leading to an increase in natural inkstones (i.e., natural-shaped inkstones). Artists began to take advantage of the patterns in the stone (such as fish brain freezes, stone eyes, etc.) and started to value the use of stone skin and insect damage.A Ming Dynasty Duan stone Dragon Pool inkstone inscribed by Emperor Qianlong (Stored in the Palace Museum).Ming Dynasty Inkstone
Qing DynastyThe development of Duan inkstone craftsmanship during the Qing Dynasty gradually declined from its heyday. By the middle of the Qing Dynasty, inkstone carving had reached the height of dazzling skill. The carvings were delicate, intricate, and ornate. The craftsmen who made the inkstones became well-known, and collectors of inkstones became renowned in later generations. In the late Qing Dynasty, influenced by the mining of Duan stone, the inkstone-making industry declined. However, during the periods when famous quarries were occasionally reopened, a brief flourish was seen.Inkstones often emphasized decoration, and the styles were not uniform, each displaying the unique ingenuity of the craftsman. However, due to the scarcity of large Duan stones, the design often followed the shape of the stone, with carvings made according to the natural form.The patterns and themes of Duan inkstone carvings during the Qing Dynasty became even more extensive and rich. Its shapes and decorations, like other artifacts of the period, generally contained auspicious implications. The so-called practice of creating art based on the stone and decorating according to the shape was moderately reflected at this time.Pictured: A Qing Dynasty inscribed Duan inkstone in the shape of a square scoop (stored in the Guangdong Folk Art Museum).Inkstone of Qing Dynasty
Modern TimesDuring the Republic of China period, as the country's fortunes declined, famous Duanxi quarries were abandoned and ceased mining. Coupled with the impacts of foreign culture, the practical function of Duan inkstones faded, gradually distancing them from everyday life. However, starting from the 1960s, the quarries in Duanxi resumed mining operations. The new inkstones often took landscapes and scenery as themes, exhibiting distinctive regional characteristics and the spirit of the times. The craftsmanship of Duan stone was no longer confined to inkstone production. Some were even carved into round sculptures and everyday items, demonstrating a trend towards larger, three-dimensional forms.Duan inkstones, with their designs shaped by the stones themselves, broke away from traditional constraints and showed a rich variety of styles, presenting a blossoming new scene.Modern Duan inkstones emphasize decoration, with a wide range of themes and rich content. While inheriting traditional Duan inkstone animal, plant, landscape, people, object, and antique imitations, they actively explored and innovated continuously.Pictured: A Republic of China period Duan inkstone with pine and crane landscape motif (stored in the Guangdong Folk Art Museum).modern inkstone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *