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This is a rare copy of the Model Books of Calligraphy from the Imperial Archives of the Chunhua Reign. In 992, the third year of the Chunhua reign (990-995), by command of the Song dynasty Emperor Zhao Jiong (r. 976-998), the Court Calligrapher Wang Zhu selected masterpieces of calligraphy in the imperial collection. He had them carved in stone, and then had rubbings made which were mounted into an album. As a collective album of calligraphic copies, it consists of ten volumes featuring calligraphic copies by former emperors, eminent officials, and calligraphy masters.
Creating rubbings of calligraphic masterpieces is one ancient printing technique. First, workers traced a piece of writing on to a horizontal stone or woodblock: After writing the characters on a piece of paper, they used vermillion ink to outline them on the back. With a few more pieces of paper on top, they pressed the back of the paper against a stone or a woodblock to transfer the red impression from which they did the engraving. Finally, they used durable paper to make ink rubbings from the stone or wood engravings.
The first volume includes works by the deceased emperors and kings of past dynasties. Volume two to four gathers calligraphy by eminent officials. The fifth volume contains masterpieces of different calligraphers while volume six, seven, and eight feature Wang Xizhi (ca. 303-361), and nine to ten features Wang Xianzhi (344-386, Wang Xizhi's seventh son).
According to the Yuan painter and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), the album was comprised of calligraphic masterpieces dating from Xia, Shang, Zhou to the Tang dynasty (618-907). Tang Taizong (r. 627-650) presented copies to his kinsmen and key officials. Because the number was limited, the album was highly prized by later generations.
The album in the Palace Museum collection also dates to the Song dynasty. It was affixed with seals including "Qianlong Personally Appreciated" (Qianlong yulan zhibao) and "Authentication Seal of the Hall of Diligence" (Maoqin dian jianding zhang). The ink rubbings were done on linen paper from a stone stele. Each rubbing was formatted into a rectangle that was inlaid on white paper and then assembled into an album with brocade covers. At the end of each volume an inscription in seal script (zhuan shu) reads "Made on the sixth day of the eleventh month of the lunar calendar, the third year of the Chunhua reign, by imperial order".
Model Books of Calligraphy from the Imperial Archives of the Chunhua Reign is the earliest calligraphy collection of China. Despite the inclusion of counterfeit works due to the incompetence of the compiler, the album is still precious enough for its success in maintaining the copies of predecessors' calligraphic works. Therefore, it is honored as "ancestor of exemplary ink rubbings" (fatie zhizu).
This album was included in A Collective Record of Precious Stone Carvings (Baoke congbian) compiled by the Song dynasty book dealer Chen Si, Study on Exemplary Ink Rubbings of the Secret Chunhua Court (Chunhua mige fatie kao) by Wang Shu (1668-1739), and Collective Lists of Ink Rubbings (Congtie mu) by Rong Geng (1894-1983).