The Northern Song connoisseur Du Wan writes in his Yunlin Rock Manual, "Lingbi rocks grow in the earth to larger and smaller sizes according to their natures. Some are like objects, while others are like mountain ranges, vertiginous and amorphous, with wonderful and unexpected turnings. Some have many connected holes; some have a simple, understated quality; some are like floating clouds, the sun and the moon, or even Buddhist figures; while some are like the sceneries of the four seasons. They require modification by the axe while others have three or four. If the three or four faces are all perfect and without defects, then you have an extremely rare 'lingbi' rock made by nature." Du also recommends that "Lingbi rocks should be protected from wind and sunlight. Prolonged exposure to the elements outdoors causes their color to fade to white and their sound quality to worsen. The best Lingbi rocks, like the magical rocks on the shore of River Si recorded in the ancient classic of Shangshu, can substitute for the musical instrument of qing (stone chimes). When struck, they produce sounds like jade."
There is no clear written record on artificial manipulation of scholars' rocks from the Tang Dynasty. The gist of Tang aesthetics was to appreciate the gifts of nature and to attribute the wondrous qualities and beauty of rocks to nature. By Song and Yuan times, natural sources of scholars' rocks had been depleted. Perfectly formed rocks became difficult to find in the wild, and artificial touch up was required to reach perfection. Nonetheless, collectors' rocks created purely by nature were still the most highly prized. In fact, they were especially valuable because of their rarity, and far above those sculpted and chiseled by hand.
The present rock, Yushanpu, is a creation of nature, untouched by axing or hacking. It has the monumental presence of a colossal mountain. The material texture is rich, and the jet-black colour of the stone is laced with occasional fine white jade-like patterns. When struck, it makes a resonant, metallic sound similar to the sound of qing. Its properties cohere completely with records in Song dynasty archives, and so can serve as reference for connoisseurship and authentication.
The front of Yushanpu is engraved with an inscription written in regular, running, seal and clerical scripts in praise of the exceeding beauty of its scenery. The inscription can be translated:
A row of mountain peaks,
subtle lucid radiance,
the merit of the Exue Peak,
winding brook and whirling mountains,
emptiness and silence on a waterside peak,
like rain couds ready to purge.
The inscription on the left side of the reverse is written in running script and can be translated:
The numerous peaks line up in elegance.
The eight tones are capable of harmony.
A rock that stands between heaven and earth,
if of course had a solitary existence.
Inscribed by Aying (Gu Dehui).
The right side of the reverse is engraved with the third inscription written in running script, which can be translated:
The pure sky and the brilliant sun protect the giant Lingbi rock.
The foundation of the mountain and its peak are borne by eight giant sea turtles.
Its boundless light and energy are derived from the Big Dipper.
Inscribed by Wang Shimin.
Shao Bo (b. 1122) of the Song Dynasty writes in his Afterword to What Shao Has Seen and Heard, "Among the rocks in the garden of the gongqing official in Luoyang, those engraved with 'qizhang' once belonged to Niu Sengru, and those engraved with 'pingquan' once belonged to Li Deyu. The two kinds are equal in number." Inscriptions on scholars' rocks have a long history and are direct evidence for their dating. But the correctness of the content, the styles of the calligraphy and the engraving can provide information useful for verifying the rocks' authenticity. In authentic engravings, the grooves and the places where the knife turned undergo abrasion and erosion together with the rest of the rock surface, and thus they should show continuity in patina and weathering effects. On the other hand, fake engravings executed at a later date always damage the original patina and weathering effects, causing cracks in the grooves and where the knife turned.
Gu Dehui (1310-1369), zi Zhongying or Aying, called himself "Priest Golden Chestnut." A native of Kunshan, Jiangsu province, Gu worked as a teacher before serving as a ceremonial general and noble of the Yuannan rank. Gu did not begin his art studies until the age of thirty, but was an extremely talented student. He is renowned for his works in calligraphy, landscape paintings, as well as poetry, and was an avid collector of ancient calligraphic pieces, paintings and bronzes. His well-ordered running and clerical scripts had the spirit of the inscription of Nymph of the Luo River. He once made and inscribed his own tomb stele. His landscape paintings include Sparse Trees and A Small Pavilion.
Wang Shimin (1592-1680), zi Xunzhi, a native of Taicang, Jiangsu province, came from a distinguished family of scholar-officials and served himself in various official capacities during the Chongzhen reign. Wang withdrew from official responsibilities under the Qing dynasty and retreated to the countryside. He had an exceptional and eccentric character, with wide-ranging and sophisticated knowledge and interests. A student of poetry and prose, he was adept in calligraphy. His running and regular scripts followed the Ode to the Withered Tree. His seal script followed models of the Qin and Han dynasties, and his bangshu (plaque script) and bafen (seal script) calligraphies were unsurpassed among his contemporaries. When young, he was much enlightened by his studies with Dong Qichang and Chen Jiru in painting theory. He was an accomplished painter, and was known as the foremost of the "Four Wangs" of early Qing paintings.
See a similar 'lingbi' scholar's rock, dated to the Yuan dynasty, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Scholars' Rocks in the Imperial Garden, Beijing, 2000, p. 84. Compare another 'lingbi' rock in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Worlds within Worlds, Harvard University, 1996, p. 27.
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