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Calligraphy

Copy from the Ch'un-hua Modelbooks
Liu Yung (1719-1804), Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 169 x 77.1 cm

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Liu Yung (style name Ch'ung-ju and sobriquet Shih-an), was a native of Chu-ch'eng in Shantung. His father served the Ch'ien-lung Emperor (r. 1736-1795) as grand secretary. Under the influence of his father's scholarship and position at court, Liu Yung passed the Presented Scholar civil service examinations in 1741 entered officialdom. He eventually went on to serve as grand secretary. In 1797, though advanced in age, he was still respected at court with his appointment as Academician of the T'i-jen Hall. In time remaining from official matters, Liu Yung enjoyed studying, writing calligraphy, and composing poetry. In calligraphy, he became an astute connoisseur and a master of modelbook studies. In his early years, Liu Yung learned calligraphy from his father, starting with the styles of the great Yuan and Ming calligraphers Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322) and Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (1555-1636). In addition, by copying the ancients, he was able to trace the evolution of a style back to the source. Consequently, judging from Liu's surviving works, he apparently was inspired by classic models from the Han, Chin, T'ang, and Sung dynasties. He particularly imitated the manners of Chung Yu, Wang Hsi-chih and Wang Hsien-chih, Chih-yung, and Yen Chen-ch'ing, and he was also influenced by those of Su Shih and Tung Ch'i-ch'ang. In the end, however, he developed his own style.

Liu Yung excelled at concealing the tip of the brush and at using rounded strokes. His thick and thin strokes harmonize the relationship between brushwork and background (solid and void) to yield a variety of visual changes to the ink. In fact, Ch'ing critics praised Liu Yung's all-around accomplishments in "combining modelbook studies". Not surprisingly, thus, Liu's broad and dignified manner became a model for later calligraphers. Though he did not have a teacher per se, he frequently copied from the Ch'un-hua modelbooks as one of his exercises in calligraphy. Besides recording in calligraphy the contents of these model books, he would also sometimes write inscriptions to express his ideas. The Ch'un-hua modelbooks had been carved in wood in the early Sung dynasty as a collection of ancient calligraphy, and they were mass reproduced in the form of rubbings for many to study. This not only led to mistakes, but even the original compiler of the modelbooks (Wang Chu) made errors. Fortunately, they were noticed by later calligraphers, preventing further misinformation for later generations. This hanging scroll transcribes the fifth chapter of the Ch'un-hua modelbooks and is attributed to the monk Chih-kuo. This, however, was in error, so Liu calligraphed a reminder afterwards to that effect. Here, Liu did not follow every character of the original, but instead selected only some. The date recorded indicates this was done in 1796 at the age of 76, thus revealing his mature style.
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