An exhibition of naturally sculpted rock from China’s Qing Dynasty opens in London this week – baffling onlookers will displays of elaborately eroded stone on wooded plinths. “What would you call it, if you had to call it something? An especially unruly, indeed, a raving, cabbage? A storm-riven sky, baroque clouds rolling with thunder? Or simply an explosion, with an upthrusting blast beneath, and an outburst spreading above? This object is about half-a-metre high, and it’s made of black Lingbi stone, though ‘made of’ may not be quite the right phrase. It’s supported on a smooth wooden base, which has a bubbly surface, and five neat feet. What on earth is it? You don’t see that many of them in Western galleries, but their generic name is scholars’ rocks, or sometimes viewing stones. They come from China and they may be from the 17th century or later. The idea is that they’re natural rocks, of a particular quality, acquired by members of the intelligentsia, to be displayed on tables, for purposes that are enigmatic.”
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