169.0 x 35.5cm image; 203.0 x 50.6cm overall
‘Luling cherished great morals, and was also an accomplished writer.’
Inscription and signature: Written by Gui Dian in the year of 'xinwei' .
Luling is the hometown and sobriquet of Wen Tianxiang (1236–83), the famous loyalist minister of the Southern Song dynasty who led a losing war defending it against the invading Mongols. He was to die a martyr after years in captivity, primarily being remembered in China as a patriot and a great poet. The expression ‘cherished great morals, and was also an accomplished writer’ applied here to Wen is taken from an article written by Zeng Gong (1019–83), one of the eight most famous writers of the Tang and Song dynasties (1). Zeng criticised the then current practice of epitaph writing with exaggerated praise unworthy of the recipient. He considered that only those who ‘cherished great morals’, and were ‘accomplished writers’ deserved an epitaph.
Gui Dian (alias Nanping), a native of Nanhai, Guangdong, was born into a family of scholar-officials. His father was a prolific Confucian scholar with more than 30 publications to his credit. Gui Dian himself passed the metropolitan examinations to receive his ‘jinshi’ degree in 1894 at the age of 30, and held positions such as prefect of Yanzhou in Zhejiang, and historiographer at the State Historiographer’s Office. Ending his official career with the fall of the Qing dynasty, he fled to Hong Kong and supported himself and his family by selling calligraphic works and paintings. Beside his accomplishments in calligraphy, his contribution to scholarship included editing four gazetteers of Guangdong county.
The style of the writing is close to that of the Tang calligrapher Yan Zhenqing and his follower Liu Gongquan (778–865): both emphasised strength, boldness and grandness. Yet in comparison with the style of Yan-Liu, Gui’s script tends to be more charming than dynamic.
1 Zeng Gong, ‘Ji Ouyang sheren shu (A letter to Ouyang Xiu)’.
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.108.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales
LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection 2005, Domain, 2005, 108, 109 (illus.). cat.no. 31
The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005