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:::Introduction

Back in the fifth century AD, the Chinese figure painter and critic Hsieh Ho formulated six rules for painting in his time, which became known as his "Six Principles of Painting". The last of them is "to convey and change by patterned representation", which can also be translated in simpler terms as "to transmit by copying". Unlike in the West, which often looks down on rote copying, in China this laid a foundation for imitating the styles and works of the old masters as a way to preserve the past and to provide inspiration in art. In practice, it was actually quite similar to writing a formal essay in the days before word processing. In the initial stages of writing, you made additions and deletions as you went along. After the draft had been revised and completed, you then copied it exactly for a clean, final version. In painting, when doing a detailed or complex work with many figures, for example, it was almost essential to make all the revisions on a rough draft before formally transferring it to the final work. For traditional artists, no matter how skilled they may be, this was a crucial and essential step. The completed final draft of a painting was known in the past as a "painting pattern", or simply a "pattern". After the pattern was finished, the next step was to transfer it to the actual painting itself. This was also perhaps what Hsieh Ho meant by "to transmit by copying". To accomplish this, the artist could use several methods. One of the simplest was to place the blank paper or silk of the painting above the pattern. Then, using the translucence of thin paper or silk, a direct tracing could be made. The painter could also hang it over a window and use the backlight for tracing. In fact, already by the T'ang dynasty (618-907 AD), professional "tracing masters" were making copies of ancient painting and calligraphy. Using a table with a translucent top and a lamp underneath, this method of reproducing original patterns proved quite convenient. A similar term used for "pattern" in Chinese was also "powder version". This derived from the colored powder applied to the back of the pattern, which was then placed on top of the painting. A pointed piece of bamboo or wood could be used to trace and transfer the pattern onto the paper or silk. Another method was to pierce fine needle holes along the lines of the final draft and then tap them with a powder bag. The powder would go through the holes and stick to the paper or silk underneath. The dots of powder were then linked together to form lines, thereby transferring the pattern for the formal painting. Patterns were also convenient to preserve, for they were often smaller than the paintings made from them, which is why they were called "miniature patterns". When the final painting was to be done, the pattern was divided into grids and enlarged proportionally to the desired size of the work.

Imitating the works of a master as a method of study was very common in the world of traditional Chinese art and craftsmanship. Sometimes the method of copying was used to create a reproduction of the original for personal use. At other times, however, it is also for profit, in imitating someone else's work based on a pattern was meant to deceive. Often later art dealers would alter authentic or imitation works with the names of old masters to give them prestige and value. For artists, however, the process of "transmitting" was often a very personal experience of varying levels. For this reason, some are very faithful in their imitation, while others add their own interpretation or that of others. Therefore, a whole new set of related works will accumulate over time. For this special exhibition at the National Palace Museum, such works related to painting and calligraphy have been selected to serve as an explanation of and testimony to the ancient Chinese tradition of "to transmit by copying", so that all viewers may appreciate and learn more about it.

 
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