Container for ink sticks, Ming dynasty, Jiajing six-character mark within double-circles and of the period (1522-1566), China, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. Porcelain with underglaze blue decoration. H. 3 1/8 in x Diam. 5 1/8 in, H. 7.9 cm x Diam. 14.0 cm. Gift of Roy Leventritt, B69P44L. © 2016 Asian Art Museum Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture
Chinese ink sticks come in various shapes and sizes. Some scholars and artists employed various ink sticks just as they used various brushes---to create a variety of effects. The top of this container is decorated with cranes, which symbolize longevity. Below are the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove enjoying chess and other scholarly pursuits.
Although the phoenix is the king of birds, the crane symbolizes both high status and longevity. Its appearance on the badge of an official's robe signaled that the wearer was a civil servant of the first rank. A crane flying in the sky represents a wish for a rise in status. The crane together with the pine tree conveys a powerful emblem for longevity. Pairs of cranes express wishes for a bride and groom to live a long life together, so they are frequently used as a decoration on marriage gifts. When the crane (he ?), is pictured with the deer (lu ?), their names form a rebus meaning the universe or longevity. The crane also represents wisdom, and when at rest, the bird is thought to be contemplating. Traditionally, a figure of the bird is placed on a coffin during a funeral because the crane allegedly provides a vehicle for the deceased to travel to heaven.
HIDDEN MEANING: May you possess the longevity of cranes!