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Past Exhibits

The Ancient Art of Writing: Selections from the History of Chinese Calligraphy
The Ancient Art of Writing: Selections from the History of Chinese Calligraphy
  • Dates: Permanent Exhibit 2013/10/08~2014/01/07
  • Gallery: Exhibition Area I 204,206

Exhibit Info

To meet the need for recording information and ideas, unique forms of calligraphy (the art of writing) have been part of the Chinese cultural tradition over the ages. Naturally finding applications in daily life, calligraphy still forms a continuous link between the past and the present. The history and development of calligraphy, long a subject of interest in Chinese culture, is the theme of this exhibit, which presents selections from the National Palace Museum collection arranged in chronological order for a general overview.

The dynasties of the Ch'in (221-206 B.C.E.) and Han (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) represent a crucial era in the history of Chinese calligraphy. On the one hand, diverse brushed and engraved "ancient writing" and "large seal" script forms were unified into a standard type known as "small seal" script. On the other hand, the process of abbreviating and adapting seal script to form a new one known as "clerical" script (emerging previously in the Eastern Chou dynasty) was finalized, thereby creating the universal script of the Han dynasty. In the trend towards abbreviation and brevity in writing, clerical script continued to evolve and eventually led to the forms of "cursive," "running," and "standard" script. Since changes in writing did not take place overnight, transitional styles and mixed scripts appeared in the chaotic post-Han period, but these transformations over the ages eventually led to established brush strokes and character forms.

The dynasties of the Sui (581-618) and T’ang (618-907) represent another important period in Chinese calligraphy. Unification of the country brought calligraphic styles of the north and south together as brushwork methods became increasingly complete. Starting from this time, standard script would become the universal script down through the ages. In the Sung dynasty (960-1279), the tradition of engraving modelbook copies became a popular way to preserve works of the ancient masters. Sung scholar-artists, however, were not satisfied with just following tradition, for they also considered calligraphy as a means of creative and personal expression.

Yüan dynasty (1279-1368) revivalist calligraphers, in turning to and advocating revivalism, further developed the classical traditions of the Chin and T'ang dynasties. At the same time, notions of artistic freedom and liberation from rules also gained momentum, becoming a main trend in Ming dynasty (1368-1644) calligraphy. Among the diverse manners of that period, the elegant freedom of semi-cursive script is noted in contrast with more conservative manners. Thus, calligraphers standing out with their own styles formed individual paths that were not overshadowed by the mainstream of the time.

Starting in the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911), scholars increasingly turned to inspiration from the rich resource of ancient works inscribed with seal and clerical script. Influenced by an atmosphere of careful studies, Ch'ing scholars became familiar with steles and helped create a trend in calligraphy that complemented the Modelbook school. Thus, the Stele school formed yet another link between past and present in the approach to tradition, in which seal and clerical script became sources of innovation and new direction in Chinese calligraphy.
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