An imperial ‘Han eaves tile’ inkstone with inlaid lacquer box and cover
Inkstone: Han Dynasty (202BC – 220AD)
Box and cover: Qing Dynasty, Qianlong mark and of the period (1735 – 1796)
D. 17cm (inkstone)
D. 17.8cm (box and cover)
Maria Kiang Chinese Art, Hong Kong
The inkstone is converted from the reverse of a Han Dynasty eaves roof tile disc-shaped roundel. The roof tile is decorated and moulded in recess with four characters reading Qianqiu wansui (Thousand Autumns Myriad Years) in seal script within a thin band.
As a further tribute to archaism, the surface of the box is dusted with specks of malachite to emulate the encrustation of aging bronzes. The cover and base of the box were inlaid in mother-of-pearl with a corresponding inscription reading Han qianqiu wansui wayan (Han Dynasty eaves tile inkstone), followed by two seals reading Qian and Long.
As an avid collector of antiquities and active patron of the arts, the Qianlong Emperor was known to make notable commissions of scholar’s objects with reverence to traditional Han culture. This charming eaves tile inkstone is a perfect embodiment of Qianlong’s fascination with ancient culture and deliberate reinvention of the past with undertones of contemporary aesthetics.
Circular roof-end tiles (also known as eaves tiles) decorated with stylised seal characters were prolific during the Han Dynasty. These rustic, yet somewhat quaint bygones seemed to have fascinated connoisseurs centuries thereafter. Many were reworked and endowed with renewed functions as inkstones and mirrors during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Such fashion continued into the 18th century, as some of these resuscitated objects of history were further embellished with elaborate boxes and covers upon their acquisition by the Qing court, as evident from the imperial records during the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods.
A closely related roof tile with similar rendering of the central boss and division of inscribed characters, preserved in its original tile form, is illustrated in Inscriptions and Sculptures. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, 2008, p. 48, Catalogue No. 53. A similar tiled inkstone without a covered box dated to the Han dynasty in the imperial collection is illustrated in the National Palace Museum’s Wenfang Juying (Volume 1 of 2), 1993, pp. 6-7, Catalogue No. 3. An example of a lacquered inkstone box and cover with a similar crushed inlay but mother-of-pearl from the collection of the Nanjing Museum is published in Zhongguo Wenfang Sibao Quanji Volume 2: Inkstones, 2007, p. 131, Catalogue No. 139.