國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum (New window)
The Art and Collecting of Painting and Calligraphy: The Ming Dynasty Legacy of Xiang Yuanbian and His Family
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  Xiang Yuanbian (1525-1590) belonged to a prominent clan of great wealth in Jiaxing during the Ming dynasty. Xiang was both learned in scholarly refinements and interested in antiquarian studies. Combining skill in painting with his acumen in business, he was able to develop a very profitable venture in the buying and selling of art, making him also the foremost collector of his day. Xiang Yuanbian referred to his art collection by the name "Tianlai ge" ("Hall of Heavenly Sounds"), which reportedly derived from an ancient zither he had purchased and treasured that was engraved with the characters "Tianlai." The following are some features of Xiang Yuanbian's collection of painting and calligraphy: 1) The works were impressed with many of his connoisseurship and collection seals, sometimes numbering in the dozens, ranking him preeminent among private collectors through the ages; 2) Some of his inscriptions written on works are quite long (though a few lines appears more common), occasionally even including a record of the purchase price at the end of the scroll; and 3) Characters from the "Thousand Character Classic" (beginning with the phrase, "The sky was black and the earth yellow, space and time vast and barren") form the numbering system for his collection, with the accession character most often written in the lower right corner of the work or in an inscription at the end of the scroll.

According to records, Xiang Yuanbian collected art for as many as fifty years, amassing holdings of more than a thousand works of painting and calligraphy through the ages. With such a vast collection in terms of quantity and quality, many scholars at the time flocked to see and appreciate his artworks. As a result, members of the Xiang clan often had the opportunity to associate with prominent gentry of the Jiangnan area. Family achievement in painting and calligraphy also rose, the styles learned mostly from the literati Wu school. The family member of greatest repute in art was Xiang Yuanbian's grandson, Xiang Shengmo (1597-1658). Just before his death, Xiang Yuanbian divided his holdings in art among his six children. Unfortunately, the Hall of Heavenly Sounds collection that Xiang Yuanbian had spent a life building came crashing down not more than sixty years after he died. When Qing troops invaded Jiaxing in 1645, the entire collection was seized by Battalion Commander Wang Liushui and scattered. Eventually, many of the works came into the hands of such early Qing collectors as Liang Qingbiao (1620-1691) and An Qi (1683-?), and then later entered the Qing imperial collection. Those surviving today are mostly in the Palace Museums in Taipei and Beijing, but some are also scattered among museums and collectors around the world.

This exhibition of works from the National Palace Museum collection includes a selection of fine painting and calligraphy by Xiang Yuanbian and members of his family, including his sons, nephew, and grandson. It also features 26 famous works with accession numbers from the "Thousand Character Classic" formerly used by Xiang. Although representing but a fraction of the original holdings in the Hall of Heavenly Sounds, this exhibit reflects some of the richness to the collection of and achievement in art by the Xiang family.

Members of the Xiang clan

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