the brown and grey-veined white marble panel boldly depicting an imaginary landscape of cloud-covered mountains on both sides, set within a zitan table screen, the panels carved with a design of continuous wan symbols
Treasured by scholars and popular from at least the Ming dynasty onwards, marble panels of this type, also known as 'stone paintings' or 'dreamstones', were prominently made of marble quarried from Dali, Yunnan province.
Wen Zhenheng (1585-1645), in his Zhangwu zhi (On Superfluous Things), vol. 3, wrote "Marble comes from Dianzhong. Marble that is as white as jade or as black as ink is considered precious. White marble with shades of light blue and black marble with shades of grey are considered inferior. However, if the collector acquires an old stone with naturally formed landscapes shrouded in clouds, as in the Mi Fu style of mountain landscapes, it is considered a most exquisite piece." The admiration of Ming dynasty literati such as Zhang Yingwen, Wen Zhenheng, Xu Xiake, and Tu Long, for marble dreamstones greatly enhanced the cultural standing of stone screens.
The white stone of the present piece appears to have been splashed with black ink suggestive of a mountainous landscape, which fits the image depicted in Ming dynasty literature. The present 'dreamstone' was thus a piece worthy of appreciation, and was held in high esteem. The stand of the present piece has been finely crafted, and the narrow, delicately wrought panels with a design of wan symbols closely frame the 'dreamstone', forming a continuous composition.
Compare a similar screen set with a dreamstone marble panel which was excavated in 1966 from a grave of the Wanli period in Zhushou, Baoshan district, Shanghai, and is illustrated in Chen Xiejun, ed., Shanghai kaogu jingcui, Shanghai, 2006, p. 402. See another similar screen, illustrated in Sarah Callaghan ed., Classical Furniture in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1999, p. 152.
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