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Past exhibition

Permanent Exhibition
A Space for Brush and Ink: Appreciating Painting and Calligraphy in the National Palace Museum Collection
This exhibition presents a systematic introduction to the developments in Chinese painting and calligraphy using artworks from the ages in the National Palace Museum collection. However, due to the fragile nature of paper and silk used for most classic works of painting and calligraphy, they can only be displayed for a maximum of about three months and must then be rotated with others.

The paintings down through the ages in the National Palace Museum are generally mounted in hanging scroll, handscroll, album leaf, and fan format. As for their contents, the three major categories are figures, birds and flowers, and landscapes.
Up to the mid-Tang period (8th century), figure painting dominated with representative artists including Gu Kaizhi of the Eastern Jin and Wu Daozi of the Tang. In the Five Dynasties period (10th c.), landscape and bird-and-flower subjects gradually replaced figure painting in central importance. In bird-and-flower painting, Huang Quan’s “outline” manner in the Western Shu and Xu Xi’s “boneless (wash)” style of the Southern Tang became standards for later generations, while in landscape painting such masters as Jing Hao and Guan Tong represented northern China with Dong Yuan and Juran for the south.
In the Song dynasty (960-1279), the monumental compositions by Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang brought landscape painting to a pinnacle. And the Southern Song Painting Academy in particular, with unprecedented patronage of the court, created classic bird-and-flower works of refinement along with elegant and magnificent figure paintings. Landscape painting at this time emphasized both the observation of nature and the incorporation of poetic ideas, the use of blank space and one-corner compositions further highlighting their lyricism and symbolism.
In the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), Zhao Mengfu’s “calligraphy suited to painting” followed such Song dynasty scholars as Su Shi and Mi Fu, who lodged their feelings in “painting from the heart,”and expanded literati painting in a new direction beyond the pursuit of “formal likeness” in art. This continued with the rich and diversified styles of the “Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty” (Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, Ni Zan, Wang Meng) to become paradigms for literati painting.
Ming dynasty (1368-1644) painting schools were often characterized by regional differences, such as the fine and elegant “Wu School” style in the Suzhou area and the bold and coarse ink manner of the “Zhe School” in the Zhejiang and Fujian region, each having its own characteristics. Dong Qichang of the “Songjiang School” in the late Ming, with his great knowledge about art, established a historical view of styles divided into an oppositional binary system and had a major influence on later generations. Afterwards, the “Four Wangs of the Early Qing Dynasty” (Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, Wang Yuanqi) followed Dong’s “Southern” lineage and formed the “Orthodox School” of painting.
The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court, where the “Orthodox School” flourished, also encouraged European methods of painting brought by missionaries from the West, resulting in chiaroscuro and perspective becoming new tools for reinventing the Chinese painting tradition. Outside the court, some painters who flourished in the city of Yangzhou were labeled as “eccentric and odd.” Neither brushwork nor forms in their works were orthodox, making these painters as forerunners for later generations seeking change and transformation in Chinese art.

The distinctive forms, styles, and lines of Chinese characters, along with rendering them in movements of the brush laden with ink, together represent a unique aspect of Chinese art. Over time, various scripts naturally evolved, including large and small seal, clerical, cursive, running, and standard.
The period of the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE-220) was crucial to the history of Chinese calligraphy. From the oracle bone script engraved on the bones and shells of animals and turtles to the inscriptions cast on bronze bells and vessels, the wide range of large seal and stone drum scripts in ancient times became unified into a standardized form known as small seal script at this period. For the expediency of writing, the straight and even lines of clerical script then gradually replaced small seal script to become the universal method of writing in the Han dynasty.
Clerical script continued to evolve, leading to the formation of cursive, running, and standard scripts. After the Six Dynasties period (220-589), mixed and transitional styles appeared. A prototype of cursive script, the quickest form of writing, is found on bamboo slips of the early Han dynasty. Standard script, representing an evolution of the regular forms and strokes in clerical script, features characters that are upright and easy to read. Running script, which falls in between the two, is more fluid than standard but easier to discern than cursive script. Running script is also the most practical of them and flourished especially in the Jin dynasty, Wang Xizhi’s mature works being the most representative form of this writing.
Calligraphy in the Sui and Tang dynasties period (581-907) followed the rigorous manner of Wei dynasty steles. It was also a time of political unification, bringing calligraphy styles of the north and south together as brushwork methods became increasingly complete. Standard script was the universal form and Yan Zhenqing its great synthesizer. Yan Zhenqing in his running script also incorporated the spirit and brushwork of such cursive-script masters as Zhang Xu and Huaisu. It likewise includes the manner and essence of Wei-Jin and Sui-Tang calligraphy, putting Yan Zhenqing on equal terms with Wang Xizhi.
Starting from the Song dynasty (960-1279), calligraphers not only continued with tradition, they also actively sought personal forms of expression. The “Four Masters of the Song Dynasty” (Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fu, Cai Xiang) were mostly known for their individual styles of running script.
Calligraphers of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), in turning to the past and advocating revivalism, further developed the classical norms of Jin and Tang calligraphy. Zhao Mengfu’s standard script was particularly refined, ranking him among the masters of this type of writing along with Ouyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing, and Liu Gongquan of the Tang dynasty.
Among the diverse manners in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the elegant freedom of semi-cursive script allowed calligraphers to express themselves even further. Examples include the “Three Masters of Wu (Suzhou)” (Zhu Yunming, Wen Zhengming, Wang Chong) and “Dong (Qichang) of the South and Wang (Duo) of the North.” All were calligraphers with their individual ways that contrasted with those more rigorously following the methods of tradition.
Starting in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), calligraphy increasingly was influenced by evidential learning and researching the past. Such studies and new discoveries offered inspiration for both clerical and seal script, which in turn affected how lines were used in standard and running scripts. Thus was the gate to so-called “Stele Studies” opened, ushering in a new era for Chinese calligraphy.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 2F S203
Ming Dynasty
Rubbing of the “Chan Master Guifeng Stele”
  • Donated to the NPM by Mr. T’an Po-yu and Mr. T’an Chi-fu
  The “Chan Master Guifeng Stele” was erected in the ninth year of Tang dynasty emperor Xuanzong’s reign (855). The text was drafted and written calligraphically by Pei Xiu (791-864), while its cap featured calligraphy in seal script (zhuanshu) written Liu Gongquan (778-865).
  The calligraphy on this rubbing is stylistically similar to Liu Gongquan’s——it features clean, agile brushwork and stable, balanced character structures that are interwoven with occasional eccentric forms. As one of the most renowned works of late Tang dynasty Buddhist stelae, this piece has been highly lauded throughout calligraphy’s long history. The Tang dynasty was a time when regular script (kaishu) flourished and important calligraphers appeared in droves. They left behind numerous classical masterworks that have long served as the finest models of study for calligraphers in the eras that followed them.
Mi Fu, Song dynasty
  Its contextual background suggests Mi Fu wrote this letter in his fifty-fifth year. In the letter he mentions a type of pastry called “zhensu” given to him by Hu Zonghui, the magistrate of Xifu (present day Zhengzhou), a prefecture near the Northern Song capital. This sort of flaky pastry was quite popular in this era, and is frequently mentioned in letters exchanged between literati.
  Compared with other famous works by Mi Fu that were passed down through the ages, this piece is absent their uninhibited passion, and instead presents a beauty that is both ordinary and innocent. The subtle transformations and technical skill of Mi’s brushwork are fully embodied in the beginnings, ends, and turns of this work’s lines and dots, as well as in the cadence of the rises and falls of his brush. Not only does this work allow appreciation of Mi Fu’s learnedness in calligraphy and his impressive writing skill, it also reflects the heights that were reached as running script (xingshu) developed throughout the Song dynasty. 
Chen Hongshou, Qing dynasty
Couplet with Eight Characters per Line in Clerical Script
  Chen Hongshou (1768-1822), a native of Qiantang (present day Hangzhou), had the style name Zigong and the sobriquet Mansheng. In the history of seal carving, he is remembered as one of the “eight Xiling masters.” He is also the creator of the renowned “Mansheng pot,” a type of purple clay teapot incised with calligraphy before firing.
  This couplet reads speaks of scholarly pleasures: old books scattered across a desk, slowly responding to letters sent from afar, enjoying fine liquor, and strumming on a simple zither. Chen’s flourished his brush nimbly, yielding linework that is forceful yet guileless. Design sensibility enriches the characters’ forms, yet they never descend into deliberateness, allowing Chen to open up new realms of possibility for seal script (lishu) calligraphy. There is no denying the effort that would have been required for him to develop his own calligraphy style, which he did by effecting a breakthrough in clerical script traditions passed down from the Han dynasty.
Wen Zhengming, Ming dynasty
Deep Snow on the Mountain Passes
  • Certified National Treasure
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) poured five years of his life into this work, which was a gift for his much younger friend, Wang Chong (1494-1533). In 1527, braving heavy winter snow, the two men made a pilgrimage together to Lankavatara Buddhist Monastery on Shangfang Mountain in Jiangsu. During the journey, Wang presented Wen with a quantity of excellent paper and asked for a painting in return; in high spirits, Wen assented, and painted this work. The painting depicts layers of contiguous, conical mountains, the jade-like green of their countless trees muted by the snow, while the lakes in their valleys below are frozen solid. A sliver of life can be found hidden beneath the green-and-blue mountains and pine needles, in the form of travelers clad in clothes of muted ochres and reds. The red-garbed riders, whose path threads in and out of view throughout the entire painting, seem to draw viewers along for the journey through the frigid mountains.
Attributed to Qiu Ying, Ming dynasty
A Hundred Beauties
This scroll has historically been attributed to Qiu Ying (ca. 1494-1552), but it is in fact a late Ming dynasty painting made for the commercial market based on Qiu’s paintings of beautiful maidens. The painting depicts a bevy of courtly ladies frolicking and enjoying themselves in a luxurious palace garden. Similarities to Qiu Ying’s “A Spring Morning in the Han Palace,” which is also held by the NPM, can be seen in the various activities this painting’s beauties are engaged in, as well as in the numerous groups of onlookers standing with their arms intimately thrown around one another’s shoulders. However, this work’s colors are even more splendid than those in Qiu’s work. Although the figures’ forms as well as the overall composition are somewhat lacking in precision, the artist nevertheless made heroic use of the expensive paints at his or her disposal, while also revealing a passion for decorative patterning that makes the work all the more dazzling to the eye.  
Jiang Tingxi, Qing dynasty
Myriad Fragrances, Collected Flowers
Jiang Tingxi (1669-1732), of Changshou in Jiangsu province, was an official who reached the rank of Grand Academician in the Hall of Literary Brilliance. A talented painter of floral and botanical subjects, his “boneless” (a type of painting where forms are created using ink washes instead of outlines) flowers-and-birds works bear stylistic inheritance from Yun Shouping (1633-1690). He served at a library-cum-workshop named the Ruyi Hall in the Forbidden City at the same time as the Italian Jesuit missionary and painter Giuseppe Castiglioni (1688-1766, Chinese name Lang Shining). This album comprises a selection of twelve meticulously rendered paintings on colored paper combined with accompanying poems. Each painting depicts a single branch of a plant, featuring its blossoms and leaves. The poetry matched with each painting is in calligraphically written by Qing dynasty emperor Shengzu (also known as Kangxi, r. 1661-1722). Because each of the different types of paper used would have absorbed inks in markedly different ways, painting this album was arduous test of Jiang’s abilities. His signature on the final leaf, which reads “Painted respectfully by your servant Jiang Tingxi,” indicates that this work was commissioned by the imperial court.