QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG MARKS AND OF THE PERIOD (1736–1795)
RESPECTIVE LENGTHS: 9.5CM, 7CM, 5.8CM, 13.5CM
The first ink stick (from the left) is cylindrical in form and enhanced with blown powdered lacquer with splashed gilt decoration. One side is moulded with the characters ‘jing sen zhai zhen cang’ 敬勝齋珍藏 (‘Kept as a Treasure in the Studio where Revert Care Triumphs’) while the other side is inscribed with ‘Qianlong ren chen nian zhi’ 乾隆壬辰年製 (4 February 1772–22 January 1773; year 37 of Qianlong). The seal marks contain the characters Yuzhi 玉質 (‘Quality of Jade’) and Jinxiang 金相 (‘Look of Gold’).
The second ink stick is moulded in the shape of a gui tablet [a gui 圭 is a jade tablet or baton conferred in antiquity on princes by the emperor as symbol of authority and dignity. Its name here derives from its shape.]. It is decorated on one side with two three-clawed confronting dragons beneath a constellation whereas the back is inscribed with the characters ‘qing gui’ 青圭 (‘Green Jade Baton’) ‘yu mo‘ 御墨 (‘His Majesty’s Ink’). On one spine of the gui tablet is the mark ‘Qianlong guisi nianzhi’ 乾隆癸巳年製 (23 January 1773–10 February 1774; year 38 of Qianlong]
The third slender rectangular ink stick is decorated in gilt with the characters ‘jingsheng zhai famo’ 敬勝齋法墨 (‘Ink Used in Model Calligraphy for the Studio where Reverent Care Triumphs‘) while on the reverse is undecorated. The name Jingsheng zhai 敬勝齋 (Studio where Reverent Care Triumphs) is taken from a saying in the ancient philosophical work, the Xunzi 荀子 (Sayings of Master Xun): ‘When reverent care triumphs over indolence, good fortune results.’ The Jingsheng zhai burned down during the great fire that swept much of the Forbidden City in 1923.
The fourth ink stick is of long cylindrical form and decorated with one side the gilt characters, ‘ yu yong‘ 御用 (‘For the Use of His Majesty‘) and ‘Chun hua xuan mogu baomo ‘ 淳化軒摹古寶墨 (‘Precious Ink Modelled on An Ancient Style for the Lodge of Sincerity Cultivation’). The Lodge of Sincerity Cultivation was located in the centre of the Changchun yuan 長春園 (Garden of Perpetual Spring) just east of the Yuanming yuan (Summer Palace). It was situated on a small island in the middle of a lake and subsequently destroyed in 1860 by the Franco-British punitive expedition. The reverse side of the ink stick reads ‘Yun han wei zhang’ 雲漢為章 (‘The Milky Way Makes an Emblem in the Sky‘) and ‘Da Qing Qianlong nian zhi‘. The Yunhan (River of Heaven), or Milky Way, is here a conceit for the magnificent virtue of the emperor. The locus classicus is the Shijing 詩經 (Classic of Poetry), Daya 雅 (Greater Elegentiae), the ode Yupu 棫樸 (Number 238).