Friday, February 3, 2012

Treatise on Calligraphy 书谱

The Treatise on Calligraphy by Sun Guoting (or Sun Qianli, 646–691), a Chinese calligrapher, theorist and scholar-official of the early Tang Dynasty, was the first important systematic theoretical work on Chinese calligraphy, and has remained important ever since, though only its preface survived. It is also the only surviving calligraphic work of Sun. Therefore it is responsible for both Sun's reputation as an artist and as a theorist.

The only reliable source about Sun’s life is a memorial text by his friend, the poet Chen Zi'ang (656 – 695 or 661-702), which reports that Sun lived in poor circumstances and died young. It is known that he served in minor positions at the court of the Tang empress Wu Zetian (624-705).

The preface of the Treatise on Calligraphy survives as a copy, probably executed hastily by Sun from his original, consisting of 351 lines of cursive script in handscroll format. The preface establishes grades of artistic rank to which calligraphers are appointed and places Wang Xizhi at the peak of a tradition originating in the 4th century. Sun treats the relationship between artistic form and expressive content, emphasizing the personality of the artist and establishing calligraphy as a creative activity. He discusses the advantages of different calligraphic styles and makes critical remarks about famous works.

In calligraphing the Treatise on Calligraphy, Sun Guoting draws on Wang Xizhi’s style of merging square and round strokes in his cursive script works. Incongruence between character shapes does not stand in the way of maintaining contextual coherence. The brushwork is smooth and brisk without flouting rules. The use of ink is smooth and moist, making trhe strokes distinctly recognisable through the undulations. A sense of candid expressiveness prevails throughout the piece. The only flaw, if flaw it is, in this gem of a work is the uniform, repetitious appearance of some characters, in contrast to Wang Xizhi’s Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion, in which a total of 18 ‘’ are rendered in a colourful array of variations – a rare feast.

唐初书法家、书法理论家与学者官员孙过庭(又名孙虔礼,646 - 691)的《书谱》是最早最重要的一篇有系统地谈论书法的理论著作。虽然现在只存有序文,它还是至今重要的书法文章。它也是孙过庭仅存的书法作品。可以说,它的存在,是孙过庭作为一个书法家与理论家的明证。

世人对孙过庭的生平所知不多,唯一可靠的资料是他的好友诗人陈子昂(656 – 695, 一作661-702)所写的一篇悼念文。该文报道孙过庭的处境贫困,很年轻就去世了。据说他在武则天(624- 705)的朝廷中作过低级官员。



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