Song dynasty AD960-1279

Cai Xiang (1012-1067)

Letter ("Taosheng")

Song dynasty AD960-1279

Cai Xiang (1012-1067)

Letter ("Taosheng")

Album leaf, ink on paper, 29.8 x 50.8 cm

Cai Xiang (style name Junmo) was a native of Xianyu in Fujian. In his practice of calligraphy, he studied the styles of the Tang dynasty masters Yu Shinan (558-638) and Yan Zhenqing (709-785) while also tracing back to and combining them with the virtues of earlier Jin dynasty calligraphers. There is much variation to the thickness of the brushstrokes in this letter, the edges of the lines sharp and clear with the end of the strokes revealing the centered brush. It suggests that the tip was short and thick with stiff hairs in the middle, similar to the famous "Brush of Leisurely Eminence" mentioned in records. At first, chipmunk tail hairs were twisted together to make this kind of brush. Later, after Mei Yaochen introduced the use of hamster whiskers, this type of brush became popular with such literati as Du Yan (978-1057) and Cai Xiang. The "leisurely eminence" mentioned in the text as a "great object" probably refers to this hamster-whisker "Brush of Leisurely Eminence." Indeed, a fine brush was used to write on this piece of high-quality paper decorated with pressed scrolling designs of flowers and vegetation. Along with the unparalleled calligraphy, the attention paid to this letter shows how much emphasis Northern Song scholars placed on their writing materials.

 

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