In one of our previous blogs titled “The Scholar’s Studio”, we introduced how Chinese Scholars traditionally use different objects on their desk to demonstrate their high-quality skills.
The “Four Treasures” which includes inkstick, inkstand, brush and paper are very well known, however other finely carved objects are also expressing the delicate Chinese literati sensibilities.
This blog will introduce water-droppers made in different materials. The water-dropper is an essential utensil for Scholars. Although it is not selected as one of the main objects in “The Four Treasures”, it is associated with them in a vital and functional way. Each time the Scholar composed a literati work, he needed to produce ink by grinding an in-cake on an ink-stone, adding a small amount of water during the process.
In the past Chinese Scholars preferred using inkstick in the form of solidified ink to be dissolved with a small amount of water on an inkstone, in order to control the amount of water applied, they use water-dropper. A classic water-dropper has two openings which function is to allow air passing through the dropper inside, it also permits to the water to flow smoothly. A literati would raise their index finger from one hole in order to release the air for the purpose of allowing water to fall out slowly and rhythmically, it is also a way that is considered to achieve inner peace.
Various shapes and different materials were used for water-droppers to enlighten the Scholars literati achievements.
On the left you can see a very interesting piece carved in bamboo in the shape of an auspicious emblem, the peach. This unique bamboo water-dropper is ingeniously carved with leaves around the fruit.
Along with the aesthetic consideration, this water-dropper deeply shows the essence of humble literati lifestyle and culture.
You can also find some water-dropper cast in bronze which is also a popular material in the Chinese literati heritage; bronze casting technology in China has a very long history, which dates back to the early Shang, in the mid-second millennium BC. Due to its well-established casting techniques in China, bronze has been made into various lively and delicate ornaments for Scholar’s desk. The heaviness of those bronzes could also be used as paper weight.
In our collection we have a piece depicting a buffalo with a shepherd boy playing the flute sitting on the top, which is a motif derived from a legend about the Emperor Hongwu founder of the Ming Dynasty. It is said he presented a picture of a boy ridding a buffalo for himself who had humble origins.
Ceramic is also a material very popular in Chinese cultural heritage, we are showing a pair of turquoise glazed water-dropper in the form of toads. Turquoise glazed technique was used since the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), it represented a new orientation for the potters, and was mainly used during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Chinese Scholars liked to use writing accessories made of Jade, as Confucius praised jade as “the embodiment of virtue”. There are hundreds of Chinese saying which use the word Jade, almost always in a positive context, as something good, noble, beautiful or honest, reinforcing the cultural belief that jade is something associated with the best in a man. We are showing a Jade water-dropper in a shape of a quail, the meaning of that bird is courage, peace and harmony depicting perfectly Chinese Scholars.