Introduction

In Chinese calligraphy, the third century CE--corresponding to the Three Kingdoms (220-280) and Western Chin (265-316) period--witnessed the maturation of various script forms. Thereafter, applications for regular, running, and cursive scripts became increasingly widespread, flourishing to form a new trend. During the fourth century in the Eastern Chin dynasty (317-420), calligraphers thereupon strove to forge writing as an art form as they explored how to make brush strokes more natural and aesthetically pleasing. Pursuing the dual beauties of “skill” and “naturalness,” both ancient and modern forms of writing were combined to achieve a realm of utmost beauty and perfection in calligraphy. The most typical representative of this trend was Wang Hsi-chih (303-361), who was praised as the “Sage of Calligraphy” by later generations.

In the era from the Southern Dynasties (420-589) to the Sui (581-618) and T'ang (618-907) dynasties, the emperor played a leading role in the connoisseurship and collection, organization and mounting, and copying and carving in stone of masterpieces by such renowned calligraphers as Wang Hsi-chih, who consequently became lauded as a model for the classical tradition of calligraphy. From the middle T'ang period thereafter, the refined and sophisticated style of court calligraphy changed as calligraphers from the commoner class increasingly added a technical flair as a form of personal embellishment to their writing. Scholar-calligraphers in particular emphasized the expression of emotions, so personal character, learning, and cultivation became important elements for critically evaluating calligraphy, establishing a new turning point that served as a foundation for later scholar-calligraphy.

It has now been more than a thousand years since Chin and T'ang works of calligraphy were created. Unfortunately, the vagaries of time and history have left very few traces of these fragile works today. This special exhibition from the National Palace Museum collection nonetheless includes a complete display of fifteen works inscribed as by Chin and T'ang calligraphers along with two related rubbings. One of the highlights is the simultaneous display of three renowned T'ang copies of Wang Hsi-chih's “Timely Clearing after Snowfall,” “P'ing-an, Ho-ju, and Feng-chü,” and “Yüan-huan” for the first time, providing a rare opportunity to view classic representatives of Wang Hsi-chih's regular, running, and cursive script. Another masterpiece in the Museum collection, Sun Kuo-t'ing's “Essay on Calligraphy” (678), uniquely combines the finest of writing, theory, and calligraphy all in one long handscroll. This special exhibit also features images from a meticulous investigation of the work's brush and ink, paper, and retouching, offering more detailed information on the process of writing and transmission over the ages than ever before. Heralded by later generations as the second most important work of running script calligraphy (after Wang Hsi-chih's “Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering”) is the Museum's “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew” by Yen Chen-ch'ing (758), also on display along with the world-famous virtuoso piece of so-called “wild cursive” script by the monk Huai-su entitled “Autobiography” (777) and the album “T'ang Rhymes” by the mysterious female adept Wu Ts'ai-luan (fl. 9th c.). All with an established pedigree, they stand out as calligraphy of fame and prestige, serving as representatives of this crucial era in the formation of the foundations of Chinese calligraphy for all to study and appreciate.