Zijin stone inkslab shaped like the character for ‘phoenix’

Song Dynasty
Length: 22.7 cm, Width: 17.5 cm, Thickness: 3.9 cm

Zijin stones are found in Linqu in Shandong. This inkslab is made of top-quality stone, with a purple, smooth surface. It has two feet in its front and a backward inclining water reservoir. There are apparent traces of ink left on its top. There is an incised inscription in five lines on the reverse side, with incomplete characters and the signature Yuanzhang. The inkslab, which had been damaged when unearthed, was discovered at the ruins of nobles’ residences dating back to Yuan Dynasty at Houyingfang in Beijing. The cultural relics dating from the Neolithic Age unearthed together with it suggest that they were all collected as antiques by Yuan nobles. Zijin stone inkslabs had been rare after Song Dynasty, and this is the only one marked with the signature Yuanzhang. It is mentioned in History of Inkslabs, a book by Mi Fu, a famous Song calligrapher and painter.
Mi Fu (1051~1107), with original name Juan and courtesy name Yuanzhang, was born in Taiyuan, Shanxi, and moved to Xiangyang in Hubei, and spent his old age in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, therefore also calling himself a local of Wu (ancient name for Jiangsu). He was made an imperial academician in painting and calligraphy by Emperor Huizong, and held an official rank in Ministry of Rites. Skilled at writing poems and essays, he was an excellent painter, calligrapher and connoisseur. He achieved the highest level in running and cursive scripts, which, inspired by Wang Xianzhi’s works, were elegant and uninhibited. He was one of the Four Song Masters, the other three being Su Shi, Huang Tingjian and Cai Xiang.