Early Tang Court Calligraphy

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Calligraphy is an art form that has been closely associated with political power throughout China's history.  Tang Taizong (r. 626-649 AD) himself was an avid collector of Wang Xizhi calligraphy during his day, and went to extreme lengths to gather up all the known extant Wang Xizhi works. He commissioned professional copyists to do careful reproductions of the works in the imperial collection and patronized Wang-style calligraphers at his court, many of whom held high-ranking posts. 


Taizong took Wang Xizhi as the model for his own writing, which he practiced using copies provided by Yu Shinan (who because of his teacher Zhiyong was believed to be the closest Tang dynasty practitioner to the original Wang style). 


Why do you think that an attempt was made to define a canon of accepted Wang Xizhi works at this particular time? 


Why do you think Tang Taizong may have thought that sponsoring such a project would be beneficial?  




Does Taizong's calligraphy at right seem like a close descendant of the Wang Xizhi example shown in the previous section? 

Li Shimin (Tang Taizong, r. 626-649 AD), Encomium on the Warm Springs (628 AD)                                             source


Two characters from each writing sample have been selected below to allow for a closer comparison. 



Look especially closely at the places where the direction of a line changes.


Are these turns abrupt or fluid? Which is more characteristic of the earlier Six Dynasties writings seen in the previous section?


Do the lines seem more three dimensional in one example than the other? (Can you imagine a pushing down or pulling up movement of the brush when you look at them)? In what script types are these pieces of writing executed?



In later writings on Chinese calligraphy, each historical period would be associated with a particular script type and the attitudes attributed to it.  For example, the Six Dynasties period is associated with the cursive and running scripts, with a primary emphasis on "resonance" and harmony, likely because of the close relationship between calligraphy and lyric expression in poetry during this era.  


During the Tang period, the predominant script was the regular or standard script, with a stylistic emphasis on brush methods or structure.  The regular script was believed to have reached its maturity during the early Tang, representing a culmination of previous regional developments.  What impact do you expect political unification might have had on calligraphic styles and how they were passed on?


Tang calligraphy has been noted for its solidity and strength, which were also believed to demonstrate the author's irreproachable moral character.  Of the more prominent academicians at Taizong's court, Yu Shinan and Ouyang Xun were valued as keepers of the calligraphic tradition, serving as tutors to the sons of nobility and as scholars of rank in the Palace library and Institute for the Advancement of Literature, respectively.


Compare this example of calligraphy by Ouyang Xun to those by Taizong and Wang Zhi above.


Look especially at the places where lines intersect.  Do the characters seem to have a more organic or more geometrical structure?  


Try to find characters that are repeated in the text (the character meaning "son" and the possessive pronoun zhi occur at least twice).  Are they consistently executed from one instance to the next?  Do the lines composing each character seem to adhere to a central axis? 


Do you have an impression of the character of Ouyang Xun from the style of his writing?  


What do you think calligraphic style can reveal about an individual?

Ouyang Xun  (557-641 AD), Letter                                 source


The characters below are details from writings by Yu Shinan (left) and Ouyang Xun (right); both are in regular script.   Think about the amount of precision or spontaneity that would have been required to form these words.  What do you think are the factors that contribute the most to their differences in appearance?





Yu Shinan (558-638 AD), Memorial for the Kong family ancestral hall (626 AD), detail                                    source

Ouyang Xun (557-641 AD), Letter, detail source



The calligrapher at right, Chu Suiliang  (596-658 AD), was a student and protégé of one of the two shown above.


The calligraphic style Chu Suiliang used earlier in his life was said to be solid and firm.  The sensitive, delicate style at right dates from his later years, and has been described as "a frail lady unable to bear the weight of her own garments."


Based on this information and any stylistic affinities you can find, try to guess whether Ouyang Xun or Yu Shinan was his mentor.

Chu Suiliang (596-658 AD), Memorial for Meng Fashi (642 AD) source



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