Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Three Rare Treasures of Calligraphy 三希堂法帖

Wang Xianzhi’s Zhongqiu Tie (Mid Autumn Manuscript) is one of the Three Rare Treasures of Calligraphy. The other two rare treasures are Wang Xizhi's Kuaixue Shiqing Tie (Fast Snowing and Sunning) and Wang Xun's Boyuan Tie (Letter to Boyuan). Dating from the fourth century, they all are regarded as the greatest masterpieces of calligraphic art and have been revered by generations of calligraphy enthusiasts as the most precious treasures.

Mid-Autumn Manuscript is said to be the authentic works of Wang Xianzhi. However, it is generally believed that it is the copy work of Mi Fu who was one of four most famous calligraphists in Song Dynasty. Since ancient time, this scroll has been praised as an excellent calligraphic model in the connecting ‘blood’ and ‘vein’. Only 22 characters are visible on this scroll, but they still demonstrate the feature of coherence. On each line, the characters or their strokes are connected in such a way to give a feeling of ‘one-stroke way of writing’, ie the whole line is written continously in one stroke. It is said to be the ‘one-stroke cursive script’ at its best.
In 1747, the three rare treasures, together with 134 selected calligraphic masterpieces from Wei, Jin, Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties (dated from late fourth century to seventeenth century), were engraved into stone tablets and collectively known as The Calligraphic Masterpieces of the Hall of Three Rarities (Sanxi Tang Fatie). Emperor Qianlong commissioned the construction of the Chamber for Reading the Classics (Yuegu Lou) in the nearby Beihai garden and these carved stones were set into the interior walls of the Chamber, while the rubbings taken from them were widely disseminated as models for practicing calligraphy. The emperor kept the original three calligraphic works in the Hall of Three Rarities next to his living quarters.
Before 1924 when the last emperor was expelled from the imperial palace, Letter to Boyuan and Mid Autumn Manuscript were moved to the Palace of Longevity and Health (Shoukang Gong), the residence of the imperial honoured consort Jingyi (literally Respect and Virtue), dowager of the Tongzhi Emperor.
After 1924, the dowager Jingyi smuggled these two works out of the palace and sold them. After that, there was no news of their whereabouts until they appeared in Hong Kong in 1951. The two treasures were mortgaged to a foreign bank in Hong Kong and would have been sold abroad if not for the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai, who authorized their purchase. In 1951, the two rarities were finally bought by the Chinese government and returned to Beijing Palace Museum. They are still kept in Beijing Palace Museum up to today.
The third calligraphic masterpiece Fast Snowing and Sunning was brought to Taiwan in 1949 and is currently kept in Taipei National Palace Museum.


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