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Duan-Inkstone with Dragon Design

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Period: Qianlong reign (1736-1795), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: Duan stone
Date: undated
Artist(s): Liu Yuan (active seventeenth century)

Dimensions: length: 22 cm, width: 18.2 cm, height: 3.6 cm

The elliptical inkstone is carved in relief with a pair of dragons emerging from clouds and surging waves. The central dragon twists its body, while the one at the right raises its head, with its tail hidden in the waves. Gold nuggets are inlaid between them, creating a design of two dragons playing with pearls. Under the dragons' body, three inkwells connect each other at the lower part of the surging waves. At the bottom of the inkstone, a strong gust of wind whips the current into two whirlpools.   
  The Duan stone, named after the Duanxi River in South China's Guangdong province, is ideally suited to be crafted into inkstones-the purplish black stone is hard but extremely smooth. It has natural "roasted rouge stains", which indicate the high quality of the stone.   
  On the left side of the inkstone inscribed in official script (li shu) is "Humbly crafted by the minor courtier Liu Yuan in the fifth lunar month, the eighteenth year of the Kangxi reign [1679]". After the inscription is a square name seal "Yuan" in seal script (zhuan shu). The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) wrote a laudatory inscription which is carved on the base.   
  Liu Yuan was a versatile court artist, who specialized in painting, calligraphy, and sculpture. He designed his works on a piece of paper before production. This inkstone is the only extent work by him.   
  The inkstone has a red sandal wood case, the lid of which is inlaid with jade ornament and inscribed with the Qianlong Emperor's poem as well as a lyric by the Song dynasty scholar-official Su Shi (1037-1101).

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