Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wang Xizhi: The Sage of Chinese calligraphy 书圣王羲之
Wang Xizhi (321 - 379) is reputed as the most outstanding calligrapher in Chinese history, unsurpassed over l,600 years. He has traditionally been called the ‘sage of calligraphy’.
He is remembered not only for revolutionising the art of Chinese writing, but also for his complete devotion to this traditional Chinese art form. He was also remembered as the founder of the Southern School, or Rubbing School of calligraphy.
Wang was born in a family of calligraphy, whose uncles and cousins were all famous calligraphers of their time. At the age of seven, Wang began a systematic study of calligraphy under a lady calligrapher - Wei Shuo, or Wei Furen (Madam Wei). He practised the Wei-style calligraphy for five years and later learned much from the work of other previous calligraphers, including Zhong Yao's Kaishu, Zhang Zhi's Caoshu and the calligraphy of Li Si and Cai Yong.
From then on, he digested characteristics of calligraphers from different dynasties, and innovated in the plain style of Wei and Jin to form a new style of flowing grace, emphasizing individual personality, style and mood.
Emperor Wu in Liang Dynasty praised his calligraphy as ‘the dragon jumping over Sky Gate, and the tiger lying on Phoenix Pavilion’.
In the early Tang Dynasty, Emperor Taizong loved Wang's calligraphy very much and because of his favour, most calligraphers at that time studied Wang's styles. When the official history of the Jin dynasty (265-420) was compiled, the emperor himself wrote an Imperial Postscript to the biography of Wang, in which he declared Wang the greatest calligrapher of all time, ‘I examined all calligraphy works with tiny details of ink from ancient times until now. I only find Wang as the most perfect calligrapher.’
Imperial sponsorship was largely responsible for the dominant position this stylistic lineage has long enjoyed. Emperor Tang Taizong fixed the style of Wang as the imperial signature with such finality that it was maintained as such through the Tang dynasty and beyond.