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Lot 3008. An imperially inscribed imperial octagonal inkstone, Qianlong period, dated to the bingshen year, 1776; 14.7 cm., 5 3/4  in. Estimation 600,000 — 800,000 HKD. Lot sold 1,360,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's 2013

the She inkstone of flat octagonal form, carved to one side with a slightly graded surface pooling the water in a small well, the recessed base on the reverse inscribed with a long poem dated to the bingshen year (corresponding to 1776), followed by two seals, De chong fu ('Sign of Virtue Within') and Hui xin bu yuan('Enlightened Mind Not Far'), below a five-character title at the top reading Fang Tang Guanxiang yan ('Imitating the Tang dynasty Inkstone of Observing Heaven'), fitted zitan box.

Provenance: Purchased in Qingdao, circa 1908 (by repute).
Baude Collection, Dresden (by repute).
Sotheby’s London, 16th May 2007, lot 283.

Exhibited: Ostasiatische Kunst Museum, Berlin, 2001-2003.
The Imperial Studio, Littleton and Hennessy Asian Art, London, 2009, cat. no. 15

Note: The inscription can be translated as follows:

 Imitation Tang Guanxiang ('Observing Heaven') Inkstone

The ancient sage observed heaven,
And put his ideas to pen.
Although eight trigrams were drawn,
Their principles were primordial.
Who has made this inkstone
To expound on The Book of Changes?
With four sides and four corners,
Neither a square nor a circle,
Further adding yin and yang,
Now all components are present.
Playful words to add on it,
Choosing a stone to imitate it.
Dripping dew to grind ink red,
It will aid me till the end of day.
Imperial inscription on the New Year's Day of the bingshen year

The present inkstone takes its form from one of the ten old inkstones of particular fine quality from the palace collection chosen by the Qianlong Emperor in the 14th year of his reign (1749) to be bestowed with a name and dating. The first of these inkstones was an octagonal duan stone, named Guanxiang and attributed to the Tang period by the emperor. A closely related example, carved with the same poem, was sold in these rooms, 8th April 2011, lot 2810.

The current inkstone is made of the highly-prized She stone, a dark slate and siltstone produced in the Shexian area in Anhui. Its tight structure makes it particularly suited for grinding ink. Many scholars consider She a superior stone to Duan. Ouyang Xiu (AD 1007–1072) for example claimed that She stone from Longwei is far superior to any other stone for ink grinding. Calligrapher Cai Xiang (1012–1067) also preferred She stone, and went as far as comparing it to the famous jade disc Heshibi.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. Hong Kong, 08 april 2013