a - right scroll; 150.3 x 35.2cm
a - right scroll; 186.5 x 43.1cm
b - left scroll; 150.3 x 35.2cm
b - left scroll; 186.5 x 43.1cm
‘The present and the past come together, the room is filled with joy;
When men commune with the Heavens, even a small piece of writing can attain ten thousand words.’
Inscription and signature: Li Zhanzhi, alias Luyuan.
The couplet describes joy of the scholar on his cultured life in solitary study. Within this studio – his room for study and contemplation – he surrounded himself with cultural implements, and also evoked a sense of spiritual vitality, where the present encounters the past and the individual communes with the universe. With a blend of history and transcendence, the private, insular life implied in a study is somehow dignified.
Li Zhanzhi (alias Luyuan) was one of many poor scholars to succeed in their ambitions through the civil service examination. Born into an ordinary family at Lidong village in Foshan, Guangdong, he received his ‘jinshi’ degree in 1903, and was the ‘chuanlu’ (first in the second class). He became a member of the Hanlin Academy, was awarded the title of the Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent, and served as one of the tutors of the last emperor Puyi (r1909–11). The couplet, suggesting in a general way the demeanour of Dong Qichang and Zhao Mengfu’s writing, is a good example of the enduring quality of ‘tiexue’ tradition at the Qing court.
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.114.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales
The couplet, written on two narrow pieces of paper or silk, and hung either side of a large painting or doorway, is one of the most common forms of calligraphic art and has a long standing history in China. They first appeared in the Five Dynasties period (907-979) as pairs of plaques, carved after written master copies, to decorate architectural columns, courtyards and garden doorways. Couplets for indoor display, written on paper or silk, came into existence in the 17th century and gained great popularity in the Qing dynasty. The couplets themselves are either taken from classical poetry or contemporary literary works composed by the calligraphers themselves and their friends. A couplet is made up of two parts called the head and the tail. The two lines of verse are antithetically parallel. Formerly it was a very common practice to send them to friends or relations on such occasions as marriages and birthdays, or as condolences to families of deceased persons.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, August 2003.
LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection 2005, Domain, 2005, 114, 115 (illus.). cat.no. 34
The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005