National TreasureInk-cake rest, Water pot, Spoons

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  • 金銅墨床, 金銅水注, 金銅匙
  • Gold-plated bronze
  • Tang dynasty or Nara period/8th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • N-80, N-81, N-82

These beautiful gilt bronze ink-set utensils from Horyû-ji Temple are thought to have formed a set with a tile-shaped (also known as "monkey-mask") inkstone with a black lacquer rim. It is said that Prince Shôtoku (574-622) used this set when he wrote his Righteous Commentary on the Three Sutras (J. Sangyôgisho).

The ornate hexagonal, pedestal-shaped ink-cake rest is composed of three parts: a flat surface on which to place the ink cake, a base, and a cylindrical stem that connects the other two pieces. The flat surface is stylized with an arabesque openwork motif composed of a central six-petaled flower surrounded by six small seven-petaled flowers around its circumference; the leaves and flowers are executed in fine "hairline" engraving (J. kebori). The hollow stem connecting the top and base of the ink-cake rest is engraved by using the same "hairline" technique, with four flowering branches delicately encircled with twelve lotus petals at its foot. The base is composed of an openwork design with eight small five-petaled flowers, carved in the same delicate style as the ink stand. The entire piece is engraved in places with an intricate design of tiny "fish-egg" circles.

The resplendent pouch-shaped water pot has an oval window on each side, inside which is delicately carved a phoenix and flower petals. Affixed to its base are three carved legs. The lobed lid, in the shape of a flower with four curved petals, has a jewel-shaped knob with a four-petaled flower delicately engraved at its base. The open spaces on the lid and body are also textured with "fish-egg" patterns.

The spoons, used for drawing water from the water pot, are respectively in the shapes of a lotus flower, a gourd, and a willow leaf. The handles of all three are slender and rounded, with delicately curving lines.

These objects are thought to date to the eighth century and to have been made in either China in the Tang dynasty (618-c. 907) or Japan in the Nara period (710-794). It is possible that the spoons are from the Korean peninsula.