Qilian rocks come from the mountain of the same name in Gansu province. The rocks are particularly appreciated for their distinctive texture, most notably the concentric wrinkles which resemble enlargements of fingerprints, and the integrally nodules that imbue the surface with a beaded texture. The current rock is particularly well worked to evoke the imagery of a miniature landscape encompassing meandering streams and rocky valleys, which befits the functionality of the scholar’s rock as a microcosm of the universe through which scholars could meditate within the confines of the studio.
The expansion of the canon of scholar’s rock to include Qilian stones took place around the Ming dynasty when the supply of Lingbi and Ying stones became largely exhausted, encouraging scholars to explore other types of stones for appreciation. It occurred in conjunction with a shift of taste when the preference for stone colours broadened from the previously subdued palette of black, grey and white to more colourful shades such as russet-brown, gold and turquoise.
Compare to a smaller Qilian scholar's rock resembling an arched bridge from the Master of Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7 April 2014, lot 3636.