33 • A Magnificent Scholar's Rock

33 • A Magnificent Scholar's Rock of Laoshan Stone

China, Shandong province; 16th or 17th century
97 cm high × 27 cm wide (without base)
Original Ming dynasty wooden base
15 cm high × 48 cm wide; Teak

This is probably the largest scholar’s rock of laoshan in the world, a magnificent boulder of unworked stone.

Laoshan stone is found in the Shandong province of north-eastern China, in the waters of the East China Sea and within the peaks of Mount Lao which rise abruptly up from its shores. These peaks are areas of outstanding natural beauty, full of waterfalls, lush forests of pine, elm & cedar; and temples dedicated to Taoism, which is said to have been cradled within its landscapes.

In many ways this is a perfect source of material for scholar’s rocks, whose traditional function was to represent a microcosm of the natural world on which the scholar could meditate within the confines of their studio. Not only would they do this in order to develop their powers of observation, but since a scholar’s time was often completely occupied by their offcial duties, they would also function as a portal into which they could disappear and surround themselves with the nature their development required.

One characteristic of such rocks which is especially admired are those which resemble mountains, particularly the magical peaks believed to be inhabited by immortal, transcendent beings – the Mountains of the Eternals. These inspired a rich mythology of Chinese folklore, whose stories spoke of a remote paradise of mountains, towering peaks rising magnificently from the sea, covered with a rich foliage of jade green, home to endless beasts and birds, to trees which forever bore fruit, and to immortal sages who dwelt within their summits.

Much of this recalls many of the characteristics of Mount Lao, which was in fact deemed the home of the Immortals 3000 years ago by the Taoists. Some of its many qualities can in turn be recognised within this rock – itself a towering peak covered in a jade-green blanket of forests and foliage; with gullies for pools of water to collect before tumbling as waterfalls over sheared cliffs. At its very summit a platform, a fitting seat at which an Immortal might remain removed and unaffected by worldly concerns.

Pavilions in the Mountains of the Immortals, Qiu Ying (1494–1552), National Palace Museum, Taipei
Pavilions in the Mountains of the Immortals, Qiu Ying (1494–1552), National Palace Museum, Taipei