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A Special Exhibition of the Model Calligraphy


Among the pieces of calligraphy surviving from ancient times, the most cherished are those that closely reflect the distinctive styles of the masters. Not only were they keenly collected, they also spawned carved reproductions from which rubbings and tracing copies were made. The best examples became models that later generations of calligraphers emulated. Some of the finest treasures of the Palace Museum include specimens of handwriting by celebrated calligraphers, such as A Consoling Letter (Pingfu tie) by Lu Ji of the Western Jin dynasty (265-316), Mid-autumn Manuscript (Zhongqiu tie) by Wang Xianzhi and Letter to Bo yuan (Boyuan tie) by Wang Xun in the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420), and Preface for the Orchid Pavilion Gathering after Wang Xizhi (Mo Lanting Xu tie) by Feng Chengsu of the Tang dynasty (618-907). Equally striking is a newly acquired calligraphy work, An Ode to Dispatching Troops (Chushi song). Originally in the collection of the Qing Court, it was later passed to private hands, progressing from collector to collector in an unbroken record. This piece goes some way towards making up for the relative lack of representation of the Sui dynasty in the Palace Museum's calligraphy collection, and fills a gap in a series spanning the Jin, Sui and Tang dynasties. It is hoped that this virtual exhibition of model calligraphy, together with the corresponding tracing copies, will deepen awareness of the artistic value and historical impact of such works. An Ode to Dispatching Troops is written in draft cursive script (zhangcao), a style of script evolved from a cursive form of the official clerical script (lishu). Draft cursive script is an important link between such early scripts as seal script and clerical script, and those styles that dominated more recent centuries, such as the regular script (kaishu), running script (xingshu), and today's cursive script (caoshu). Draft cursive script appeared in the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-24 CE), matured during the middle and late period of the Eastern Han dynasty (24-220) and became the earliest calligraphic expression of "art for art's sake". From the Three Kingdoms (220-280), the Wei period and the Jin dynasty (265-420) to the Sui dynasty (581-618), many calligraphers practiced the script. Well-known calligraphers of the style include Zhang Zhi of the Han dynasty and Suo Jing of the Western Jin dynasty. The script then fell out of favour and was rarely practiced in the Tang dynasty. When it was revived in the Yuan dynasty (1272-1368), the style differed markedly from its original form. Through the rare masterpiece, An Ode to Dispatching Troops, and other specimens, the evolution of the draft cursive script from the Han dynasty to the Sui dynasty is highlighted.

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