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“Preface for the Orchid Pavilion Gathering” by Wang Xizhi (303-361, or 321-379) in Running Script
“Preface for the Orchid Pavilion Gathering” by Wan
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

Wang Xizhi (303-361, or 321-379) was an Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) calligrapher honored as the “Sage of Calligraphy”. He studied calligraphy under the most famous female calligrapher Madame Wei, and later incorporated other calligraphic styles to form an elegant and free-flowing style, transcending the primitive and simple style prevailing between the second century BCE and the third century CE. On the third day of the third lunar month of 353, forty-one scholars of Shanyin (today known as Shaoxing, Zhejiang province) gathered at the Orchid Pavilion (Lan ting), to hold a purification ceremony by a winding stream and to compose poems that formed a poetry collection. Invited to this assembly, Wang Xizhi improvised a preface in running script, explaining the reasons for the gathering and showing his easy-going perspective on life. The preface itself was a calligraphic masterpiece, and was praised by later generations as the “best running-script calligraphy under Heaven”. It is said that the authentic work was buried in Zhaoling, the tomb of Tang Taizong (r. 627-650). Among the surviving copies of original work, the three Tang Dynasty (618-907) autographs in the Palace Museum collection are the most well-known. This version has been regarded as a replicate by Feng Chengsu, an expert calligraphy copyist recruited by Emperor Taizong at the Academy of Literary Propagation (Hongwen guan), an institution established to educate average-ranking officials.

History of the Object
This copy was created through the most precise and demanding method of tracing (mo), known as “outline and fill-in” (shuanggou kuotian) a method in use by the fifth century and probably originated to replicate the calligraphy of Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi (344-386). In this process, for which tracing paper coated with a thin layer of wax to make it semitransparent was sometimes used, the copyist begins by outlining the silhouettes of each character, taking care to observe even the minutest inflections of the original brush strokes. After the outlining is complete, the copyist fills in the outlines of the characters with ink. (Robert E. Harrist Jr. “Replication and Deception in Calligraphy of the Six Dynasties Period”. in Zong-qi Cai ed. Chinese Aesthetics: The Ordering of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2004. p47). This copy is so meticulous that it brings us as close as possible to what the calligraphy of Wang Xizhi was actually like. Half of a seal reading “divine dragon (shenlong)” led this copy to be named the “divine dragon copy (shenlong ben)”.

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Type
Calligraphy 
Materials
Ink on paper 
Measurements
24.5 × 69.9 cm 
Creator name
Attributed to Feng Chengsu 
Creator date
7th Century, ca. 
Where it was made
China 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 7th century ~ AD 10th century 
Creation date
7th Century - 10th Century; Tang Dynasty (618-907) 
Function
calligraphy 
Acquisition
Collection of the Imperial Palace 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Palace Museum, Beijing 
Museum
The Palace Museum 
Credit line
Palace Museum, Beijing 

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