A careful study of painting and calligraphy works in the collection of the National Palace Museum revealed more than twenty precious examples done on Song dynasty decorative pressed paper. With the exception of a few with designs that are more apparent and have attracted scholarly attention, the remainder are mostly unknown. As in the parable of blind men each touching only one part of an elephant and thus being unable to attain a complete picture, it has been difficult for us to gain a fuller understanding of decorated paper from this period. The exhibition catalogue of A Special Exhibition of Painting and Calligraphy on Song Dynasty Decorated Paper was thus created to reintroduce designs that have vanished for nearly one millennium.
"Decorated paper" generally refers to letter paper that has been specially prepared to give it decoration, and the core of this exhibition features works produced in the Song dynasty (960-1279) with impressed designs. The technique for this type of paper involves carving a design into the press, yielding a pattern in low hollow relief after use. Documentary evidence for decorative pressed paper traces the technique back to the Five Dynasties period (907-960), but the earliest examples we have today are from the Northern Song dynasty, with known pieces being quite rare. Pieces that are often cited are done so repeatedly, leading to people's misimpression that Song dynasty pressed paper is extremely rare. In fact, our current understanding and study of decorative pressed paper involves mostly later works from the Ming and Qing dynasties, a time from which more surviving examples are extant and hence the source behind the saying that this kind of paper only became popular at that time.
By carefully studying the works of painting and calligraphy in the collection of the National Palace Museum and employing special photographic techniques, this exhibition catalogue "rediscovers" the long-lost designs. Because of the subtle and reserved nature of this decoration, it testifies to the exceptional refinement of Song dynasty ornamental paper. To allow readers to clearly witness these hidden patterns on Song dynasty artworks, the originals are on display along with photographs that aid in bringing out the subdued splendor of letter-writing culture found in decorative pressed paper. Not only exceptional works of fine art in and of themselves, these objects also reveal outstanding achievements in the art of making decorated paper during the Song dynasty.
Attached to this exhibition catalogue is a replica of ancient letter paper based on the designs of Song dynasty decorated paper. The goal is to enable readers to embrace the elusive elegance of Song dynasty artistry and experience the joy once experienced by ancient people during the process of exchanging letters.
Related network resources: A Special Exhibition of Painting and Calligraphy on Song Dynasty Decorated Paper Special Exhibition