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  • Roofing Tile End Cap Made in Zhuti with Fish and Heron Motif,Anonymous, Eastern Han dynasty

    Roofing tile end caps, a component of traditional roof construction, originated circa the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). They serve to hold the roofing tiles above them in place and to protect the ends of a roof’s eaves. The surfaces of roofing tile end caps from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) are often decorated with images and written characters, giving them both a practical and artistic function, and imbuing them with a wealth of historical information.

    This rubbing, donated to the NPM by Mr. Yeh Kung-chao, comes from a roofing tile end cap excavated from ruins of the Eastern Han dynasty settlement of Zhuti (present-day Zhaotong city in Yunnan province, China). A seal script inscription dating the tile to the year 100 CE occupies its center, while a decorative fish and heron are placed on either side of the text. This layout is exceedingly similar to designs seen on bronze vessels coming from the same area, revealing one of Zhuti county’s local artistic traits.

  • Zhao Kuan Stele, Anonymous, Eastern Han dynasty

    This rubbing was donated to the NPM by Messrs. Chuang Yin, Chuang Che, and Chuang Ling. The original stele was unearthed in 1941 in Ledu County in China’s Qinghai province. The stele, erected in the year 180, was dedicated to Zhao Kuan (88-152), one of the “three district elders” from Haomen county dispatched to assist with local educational efforts. Zhao’s grandson Zhao Huang (fl. 2nd century) sponsored the stele’s erection in praise of his ancestors, and thus the inscription describes his predecessors’ genealogy and meritorious deeds, in addition to extolling the contributions Zhao Kuan made on behalf of the education system. The entire inscription was written in clerical script with upright, evenly aligned characters and an abundance of protruding corners in its linework. The calligraphy is stylistically reminiscent of that found on the “Mount Hua Stele” dating to 165 and the “Xiping Stone Classics” dating to 175.

  • Lyric Essay, Lu Jianzhi, Tang dynasty

    According to historical records, Lu Jianzhi (fl. mid 7th century) excelled at emulating the cursive and running script calligraphy of his maternal uncle Yu Shinan (558-638) and Eastern Jin dynasty master calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303-361), but he was lacking in terms of developing an individual style.

    This scroll’s textual contents are nearly identical to the contents of an essay included in the Mirror of Literature and Treasury of Mysteries, which was compiled in the 9th century. Its alternate characters (some Chinese ideograms can be written in a number of different ways) and characters that were changed to avoid violating taboos around using ideograms that were used in emperors’ names generally correspond with similar examples seen in other documents dating to the Tang dynasty, indicating that this scroll cleaves close to the original appearance of the “Lyric Essay.” The work was primarily written in running script, with cursive script making occasional appearances. Its style is extremely similar to that of the “Preface to the Orchid Pavilion,” according with comments on Lu Jianzhi’s calligraphy found in historical writings. For this reason this piece has been attributed to Lu ever since the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).

  • Appointment of Sima Guang to Vice Director of the Left, Wei Zongshi, et al, Northern Song dynasty

    This document is a “gaoshen,” an ancient form of formal government announcement of an official appointment or reward. Gaoshen were formatted differently according to the level of appointment that they announced. This gaoshen was created in 1086 to announce Sima Guang’s (1019-1086) official promotion. The main text of such an announcement would have been written by a scholar in the Hanlin Academy before being reviewed by members of the chancellery, submitted for imperial approval, signed by cabinet ministers, and stamped by the Ministry of Appointments. This process, which announced appointments at the fourth and fifth levels of cabinet, was used in place of the in-person confirmation ceremony for appointments at the third level and above; it reflects reforms to the bureaucratic system made by the Northern Song dynasty government in 1082. The entire document was written in running script (xingshu) with large characters. The brushwork is fluid and the character structures are orderly, lending the text a vigorous appearance and a businesslike bearing. According to the protocols of the day, this gaoshen’s calligraphy would have been written by Wei Zongshi (fl. 11th century) of the Ministry of Appointments.

  • Various Calligraphic Works, Zhang Bi, Ming dynasty

    Zhang Bi (1425-1487), who had the style name Rubi and the sobriquet “Eastern Sea” (Donghai) came from an area located in present-day Shanghai. He was a representative member of the Ming dynasty’s Yunjian school of calligraphy.

    Zhang completed the pieces included on this scroll when he was between 61 and 62 years of age; the scroll comprises letters and poems he wrote to his close friend, Sima Yin (1439-after 1484). The collection is dominated by running cursive and wild cursive scripts, with draft cursive making occasional appearances. Strong contrasts appear between the sizes of different characters, the elongation or shortening of their structures, and the thickness and thinness of their lines. Rather than being a demonstration of exquisite brush techniques such as those used to cleanly begin and end lines or turn corners, this scroll is instead a standout display of bold, untrammeled brushwork and relaxed, natural sentiments. For this reason Zhang compared his own work to “wild ducks,” contrasting it with the staid calligraphic aesthetics of the imperial Hanlin Academy.

  • Transcribed Ancient Poems by Su Shi Attributed to Zhao Mengfu, Anonymous, Ming dynasty

    Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) had the style name Zi’ang and the sobriquets Oubo and “Snowy Pines” (Songxue). He was one of the Yuan dynasty’s most influential literati painter-calligraphers and arts connoisseurs.

    This piece is a transcription of an ancient poem by Su Shi entitled “Poem Written in Response to Monk Daoqian’s Rhyme Scheme as a Gift.” The brushwork is easygoing and fluid, with linework that is full of vigor and totally free of hesitancy or blockage. The characters’ structures are slightly inclined, such that their right “shoulders” rise diagonally, a feature that indeed reflects characteristics of Zhao Mengfu’s study of Li Yong’s (678-747) calligraphy in his autumn years. That said, there is not much transformation in this piece’s brushwork and character structures—for instance, angular brushstrokes were used both at the beginnings of the lines as well as in their right shoulders, and the vertical hooked strokes in characters like 水 and 不 (meaning “water” and “not,” respectively) have repetitious shapes. From this we can see that Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong was not mistaken when he wrote in his colophon appended to this work that it counts an “excellent forgery” from the Ming dynasty.