"Inkstone Container" for a Milennium ,The treasure of Nanjing Museum——Bronze Inkstone Container

From June 25 to 27, in the final evaluation of the first promotion campaign "Most Beautiful Cultural Heritage Narrator" sponsored by the Chinese Society of Cultural Relics, China Heritage Newspaper Office, Suzhou Cultural Relics Bureau, and organized by Suzhou Museum, Sun Yue from the Nanjing Museum was selected as the "Excellent Cultural Heritage Narrator" for her wonderful narration of "Inkstone Container" for a Millennium in fluent English.


The Four Treasures of Chinese study embody the wisdom and aesthetic taste of the literati, and are important carriers of Chinese traditional culture. Among them, the inkstone with a high hardness, known as "the first of the four treasures of Chinese study", can be passed down for hundreds of generations, witnessing the inheritance of culture. Meanwhile, a good inkstone needs to be equipped with an exclusive inkstone container, complementing each other for the same lifespan. The highlights of the collections I’m going to introduce today is Bronze Inkstone Container from Nanjing Museum.


This bronze inkstone container gilded completely with gold and silver and inlaid with various jewelries. In 1970, this inkstone container was excavated from the Tushan Han Tomb in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, the occupant of the tomb is King Pengcheng and his wife from the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the shape of a toad, it has double horns on its head and wings on its abdomen, so called "a divine creature".


Weird as it may seem, but embody a profound culture background. The custom of using toad-shaped utensils as stationery products originated in the Western Han Dynasty. On the one hand, toads cannot leave water for a long time. On the other hand, when grinding on an inkstone, it is necessary to pour an appropriate amount of water. Moreover, as recorded in ancient books: “When the head of a toad grows horns, you will live a thousand-year-long life after using it”. Therefore, horns conveyed people’s good wish of longevity.


When we come to the wings, it is widely believed to be the reflection of the pursuit for immortality. Actually this shape came from Assyrian region around Tigris River, so it also witness the mutual learning between Chinese and foreign civilizations. Has such a beautiful inkstone container really been used? Let’s open it to find the answer. The inkstone container can be divided into two parts. The upper part is the lid and the lower part is the inkstone box. There is a button on the lid, which can be tied with a rope for easy opening.


After taking off the lid, you can see the oval inkstone. Its front is a concave inkslab to store water or liquid ink. We can clearly see ink marks left on the inkslab, which are the traces left by then after use, proving that this one was a practical inkstone used by the tomb owner during his lifetime. The gold and silver luster was still luminous when the inkstone container was unearthed, the body also inlaid with various gemstones such as turquoise and agate. It perfectly combined the gilding and inlaying techniques, reaching a high level of craftsmanship in the Han Dynasty.