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Encomium on Three Horses

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Period: 1097, Shaosheng reign (1094–1098), Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)
Medium: ink on paper
Date: 1097, Shaosheng reign (1094–1098), Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)
Calligrapher(s): Su Shi (1037–1101)

Dimensions: 29.2 cm × 79 cm

This work in regular script calligraphy by Su Shi (1037–1101) is an encomium on the painting Three Horses (Sanma tu) by Li Gonglin (1040–1106).

Born in Shuzhou (present-day Tongcheng, Anhui Province), Li Gonglin was also known by his courtesy name (zi) Boshi and by his style name (hao) Longmin Jushi. A painter of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), he had close relationships with Wang Anshi (1021–1086), Su Shi, and Wang Shen (ca. 1048–after 1104). Three Horses was painted by Li at Su’s request and kept in the latter’s personal collection ever after.

After being demoted and banished to Huizhou, on the fourteenth day of the third lunar month of the fourth year (1097) of the Shaosheng reign (1094–1098), Su Shi wrote this encomium at the age of sixty-two (in sui) while viewing the painting and reminiscing on past events. At the time, Su had already begun to reach a state of mental tranquility, which is reflected in the calligraphy. His brushwork and application of ink are steady and unhurried. The construction of the characters and the composition as a whole are free of a deliberate pursuit of change, which points to the artist’s maturity.

The painting was later kept in the treasury of the Qing court. Puyi (or the Xuantong Emperor, r. 1909–1911)—the last emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911)—took the scroll with him when he went to the Northeast. When the Manchukuo government fell, the scroll was damaged, and the painting and encomium were separated. The first half of the encomium is now lost; only the second half and part of the colophons by other Song artists remain.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu


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