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Round Ink Cake Carved with Wen Qiao Burning Monsters with Rhinoceros Horn

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Period: Wanli reign (1573-1620), Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Medium: inkstick with lacquer coat
Date: undated
Artist(s): Fang Yulu

Dimensions: diameter: 12.7 cm, thickness, 1.6 cm

The ink is made in the shape of a flat round cake with a raised frame coated in purple lacquer on both sides. The ink cake is molded with a story illustrating Wen Qiao (288-329), a politician of the Eastern Jin period (317-420). On hearing from the local people that the water was infested with monsters, Wen burnt a rhinoceros horn to shine light on the water. Immediately, the light drew the odd sea creatures to the surface and burnt them to ashes. Later, the rhinoceros horn was considered an object to ward off evils and Wen Qiao was regarded as having miraculous powers. In low relief, the design was enhanced with red, green, and gold paint. On the reverse, a four-character title of this story is molded in relief within a vermillion square frame in intaglio.   
  On the edge of the ink cake the date and craftsman's name are molded; they read, "xinchou year [1601] of the Wanli reign, made by Fang Yulu".   
  Fang Yulu is an acclaimed ink maker of the Wanli reign. He blended refined oil with precious herbs to make ink sticks and cakes, which made his products durable and long-lastingly fragrant. This round ink cake reflects the craftsman's consummate skill in carving the wooden mould, the artistry of which is in no way inferior to the ink that was produced in it.   
  The ink cake was listed in the Qing catalogue Review of Zhongzhou's Ink Collection (Zhongzhou cangmo lu) by Yuan Lizhun (1876-1935, style name Zhongzhou).

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