QING DYNASTY, 18TH CENTURY
LENGTH OF INKSTONE: 11.5CM
The chengni inkstone is modelled in the shape of a peach pit. Its exterior resembles the craggy surface of a tear- shaped peach pit while the interior has a thick mouthrim bordering a smooth surface for the grinding of ink. The rim of the inkstone has an inscription which reads:
王母桃蹟〔跡/迹〕半核 • 傳人秀化作石 • 方朔偷之不暇食 • 待詔金門且磨墨 • 袁枚銘 •
‘Half of one of the Queen Mother’s peaches, fruit bequeathed to the human world, was transformed into a stone. This Fang Shuo stole it but, no time to eat it while awaiting orders at Gold Horse Gate, I just use it to grind ink.’ Inscription by Yuan Mei.
The ‘Queen Mother’ is often referred to as Xiwang Mu, ‘Queen Mother of the West,’ whose peaches of immortality she sometimes conferred on the human world. Legend has it that she once gave some to Han Emperor Wu. She had brought seven peaches, five of which she presented to the Emperor, and ate the other two herself. Then the Queen Mother recognized Dongfang Shuo (ca. 160 - ca. 93 BCE) as a courtier of hers at Mount Kunlun and told the emperor he was an incarnation of the planet Jupiter who has been temporarily banished to earth for stealing her peaches of immortality. Reference to Dongfang Shuo continues, with Sima Qian’s 司馬遷 Shiji 史記 (Records of the Grand Historian), Guji liezhuan 滑稽列傳 (Composite Biographies of Slippery Characters), 126:3205: When Shuo entered the palace, a courtier said to him, ‘Everybody says that you, sir, are crazy,’ to which Shuo replied, ‘People like me are what people call ‘recluses who avoid the world at court, whereas people of antiquity avoided the world by living deep in the mountains.’ Another time while seated at a banquet, flushed with wine, supporting himself on one arm as he sat there, he sang out, ‘Be a recluse amidst the vulgar world, / Avoid the world at Gold Horse Gate, / For right at the centre of the palace I hide my entire person from the world, / So what need have I for deep mountains, / There to live beneath a thatched roof?’ ‘Gold Horse Gate’ was the gate to government offices, beside which was placed a bronze horse, which is why it was called ‘Gold Horse gate.’’
Yuan Mei 袁枚 (1716-1797) was a well-known aesthete active in the 18th century. Although this inscription does not appear among the eleven inkstone inscriptions (yanming 硯銘) recorded in juan (fascicle) 24 of Yuan’s Xiaocang shanfang wenji 小倉山房文集 (Prose Collection from the Little Storehouse Mountain Lodge) (Yuan Mei quanji 袁枚全集 ed.), it seems very much in Yuan’s style and invested with his sense of humour and wit. References to both the Queen Mother of the West and Dongfang Shuo often appear in his writings. Yuan seems to have particularly identified with the eccentric and brilliant Dongfang Shuo.
The inkstone is encased in a deep red lacquer box and cover.