In the fifth year of Emperor Shenzong's Yuanfeng reign in the Northern Song period (1082), more than 800 years after the epic Battle of Red Cliff, the famous poet-official Su Shi (Dongpo) and friends made two trips to Red Nose Cliff (Chibiji) west of the town Huangzhou. To commemorate these trips, Su wrote two rhapsodies that would earn him universal praise in the annals of Chinese literature: "Odes to the Red Cliff." Afterwards, Red Nose Cliff at Huangzhou became known as "Dongpo's Red Cliff."
For Su Shi, this was also a time when he had to endure the hardships of exile from court that resulted from the Wutai Poem Incident. In his rhapsodies Su yearned nostalgically for the daring bravura of heroes who fought at Red Cliff centuries earlier, while also facing the realities of life's brevity and the hypocritical nature of people. Consequently, he was able to develop a clear and philosophical form of critical self-examination on the aspects of change and permanence. It was exactly the predicaments of his personal difficulties at this time that made it possible for Su to see through the veil of history and make the trips to his Red Cliff passed down and commemorated through the ages. For example, dramas based on stories revolving around Su Shi and Red Cliff were produced in great numbers during the following Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Countless calligraphers also repeatedly transcribed Su's two rhapsodies on Red Cliff, which likewise became popular among painters wishing to illustrate and celebrate Su Shi and Red Cliff.
This section of the exhibition begins with an extremely precious rendering of Su Shi's "Former Ode to the Red Cliff" calligraphed in the author's own hand. The display then goes on to show how Red Cliff became a common motif in the vocabulary of painting and calligraphy by various literati over the centuries. It also demonstrates how literati of different eras each interpreted the historical, literary, and emotional facets of Su Shi's Red Cliff in different ways. Finally, this section reveals the spread of this subject matter and how even professional artists came to incorporate the theme into their works, revealing its depth and richness over the ages. Certain ideas of the Three Kingdoms period inspired by Su Shi's rhapsodies on Red Cliff may seem remote from actual history. Nonetheless, the land remains as before, the emotions they aroused having long since changed. Yet each time they inspire new generations of painters and calligraphers to revisit Red Cliff and the Three Kingdoms through the medium of Su Shi, illustrating their own images and ideas on Red Cliff for posterity.
Qianchibifu (Former Ode on Red Cliff)
Su Shi (1036-1101), Song dynasty
Handscroll, ink on paper
Su Shi (1036 ~ 1101), also known as Zhizhang and Resident of Tong Po, is native of Meishan of Shichuan, and was an imperial scholar in the 2nd Year of Chia You (1057). He holds a particularly revered position in Chinese literary history, and ranks as one of the Four Song Masters in calligraphy, while being the first scholar to create the scholar painting in Chinese painting history. He is one of the most important literary masters in the Northern Song period.
Su had a very unstable career as a government official, and was exiled from court that resulted from the Wutai Poem Incident to Huangzhow in the 2nd Year of Yuan Feng (1079). This marked a turning point in his life and work, and the Former and Latter Odes to the Red Cliff were representative works from this period. This "Former Ode to the Red Cliff", personally written by Su Shi, is particularly rare masterpiece in literary and art. The Ode depicted Su and his friends travelling on a small boat to visit the Red Nose Cliff just outside Huangzhow city on July 16 in the 5th Year of Yuan Feng (1082), and recalled the Battle of Red Cliff when Sun Quan won victory over the Cao army during the times of the Three Kingdoms; through this Ode, Su expressed his views about the universe and life in general.
This Ode was written upon the invitation of his friend Fu Yao-yu (1024 ~ 1091), and from the phrase "Shi composed this Ode last year" at the end of the scroll, one deduces that it was probably written during the 6th Year of Yuan Feng, when Su was 48 years of age. From Su's particular reminders of "living in fear of more troubles", and "by your love for me, you will hold this Ode in secrecy", one has a sense of Su's fear as a result of being implicated in the emperor's displeasure over writings.
The start of the scroll is damaged and is missing 36 characters, which were supplemented by Wen Zhengming (1470 ~ 1559) with annotations in small characters, although some scholars believe that the supplementations were actually written by Wen Peng. The entire scroll is composed in regular script, the characters broad and tightly written, the brushstrokes full and smooth, showing that Su had achieved perfect harmony between the elegant flow in the style of the Two Wang Masters that he learned from in his early years, and the more heavy simplicity in the style of Yen Zhenqing that he learned in his middle ages.
Chibitu (Red Cliff)
Wu Yuanzhi (fl. 1190-1196), Jin dynasty
Handscroll, ink on paper
Wu Yuanzhi was a notable scholar during the Ming Chang Period of the emperor Jin Zhang (1190~1195), and was an expert in landscapes painting. This painting depicted Su Shi and his friends travelling the Red Cliff, and Su is shown wearing a head scarf, "passing through this enormous universe on a tiny leaf" with two visitors and a boatman. The red cliff across the river towered over them, and the pine branches on the shore bowed slightly; the delicately painted waves spread gently, seeming to represent that "the waters were calm in the gentle breeze" that evening.
Although the trees and rocks in the foreground are painted in the Lee Kuo style popular in the north, the main mountains were composed in simple short and vertically turned strokes, and the entire scroll is shaded in light ink, without the usual dramatic heavy ink and atmosphere of the Lee Kuo style. The entire work was painted on paper, and the plain, elegant spirit reflected the literary paintings made popular by Su Shi and other literati during the late North Song Period. This showed that paintings of the Jin period are merging the traditions of the north with the newly popular literary painting trend.
This scroll was originally not annotated by the author, and the end of the scroll was annotated by the famous scholar Zhao Pingwen in the 5th Year of Zhenda during the Jin dynasty. The collector Xiang Yuanbian of Ming dynasty believed the scroll to be painted by Zhu Rui of the Song dynasty, but based on more recent studies of Zhao Pingwen's work, this scroll is now attributed to the painter Wu Yuanzhi of Jin dynasty.
Fangzhaobosu houchibitu (Imitating Zhao Bosu's Latter Ode on Red Cliff)
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), Ming dynasty
Handscroll, ink and color on silk
The given name of Wen Zhenming (1470~1559) was initially "Bi", but he later went by the self-given name "Zhenming". He was the most influential painter of the Wu-style during the 16th century. This scroll is based on Su Shi's "Latter Ode on the Red Cliff", and is divided into eight sections, depicting Su Shi and his two friends returning to the Red Cliff with wine and fish. The fundamental colour of the entire scroll is light green, and although it is said to be an imitation of Zhao Boju's style, the lines and strokes visible under the paint seems transparent and more layered, appearing to be closer to the light green traditions of the literati Zhao Mengfu during the Yuan dynasty. The visitors themselves are depicted in simplistic lines, while the mountains and rocks are stacked closely and variable, demonstrating the leisurely spirit of the literati in the face of such wondrous scenery. The year annotated on the work is the 27th year of Jia Jing reign (1548), and Wen was by then 79 years of age. This is clearly one of his later works. The back of the scroll contained an annotation by Wen's son, Wen Jia (1501~1583), describing the origins of this painting.
Tihong chibitu chaping (Screen depicting the Red Cliff)
Qing dynasty, QianLung reign (1736-95)
Incised red lacquer. h.63.6cm, w.16.5cm, l. 59.9cm
Red carving in lacquerware is created by using delicate carving work to etch out patterns of varying depths on thick lacquered boards painted in multiple layers, and through variations in the carving angle, the differences in reflections of the light created vivid variations in the subject depicted. This is the most amazing aspect of carved red lacquerware.
The instant carved fan on the Red Cliff is carved upon a board 46.3cm wide and 40.3cm tall. Clouds in the sky, tall pines and the steep cliffs towered over the upper left corner of the fan, while the right of the screen is filled with the wide surface of the river. The mountain ranges stretched into the distance, and a few reeds are spread over the foreground. The small boat drifted slowly, and one can seemingly hear the happy voices of Dongpo and his guests, the rowing of the paddles, and the sounds of young servants boiling tea. The powerful imagery takes us to this relaxing scene.
The other side of the fan depicts cloudy dragons rising out of the water, with three dragons fighting for a ball amongst the water vapours. Dragon patterns of this kind are highly popular during the reign of Qinglong, and represent the nobility of the emperor. It being carved on the other side of a fan on the subject of "Red Cliff" perhaps symbolized the powerful emperor's secret longing for the more relaxed life of Su Dungpo and his guests on the river!
Jixieshi chibitu boyi (Seal depicting the Red Cliff, stamp uncut)
Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Bas relief on ShouShan Blood Stone. seal section 4.2x4.3cm, h. 9cm
Making of seals by the literati first began in the late Yuan dynasty, and gradually became popular during the Ming dynasty with many different schools. It later gained status as one of the four arts of the literati, with the others being poetry, calligraphy and painting.
Chicken-blood stone from Changhua in Zhejiang Province and tian-huang stone from Shoushan in Fujian Province are both excellent stones preferred by chop makers from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The former attracted the viewer with its bright coloring, while the latter had more gentle and warm nature. In order to increase the aesthetic beauty of the seal, the maker often carved a little embossment or skilfully carved the entire chop, to make appreciation of the seal more interesting.
The natural color of this particular chicken-blood stone is carved into spectacular clouds and cliffs, and the out-stretched pines over the wide river as well as the small boat told the annotated story:
"The moon rises over the eastern mountain and hovers amongst the stars. The white dews covered the river, and the light and water are connected to the sky. One marvels at the enormity of the universe. Ke Zhai."
This brought out the "Red Cliff" theme in the carving, and the running script appears to be taken from the "Ode on the Red Cliff" written by Zhao Mengfu. The entire stone is skilfully carved, and can be considered an outstanding work from the early Qing dyansty.