Scroll for Zhang Datong (Zeng Zhang Datong guwen ti ji)

Huang Tingjian (1045-1105)
Scroll for Zhang Datong (Zeng Zhang Datong guwen ti ji)
China, Northern Song
Calligraphy, handscroll
Ink on paper
34.1 x 552.9 cm.
The John B. Elliott, Class of 1951, Collection


Renowned for his poetry and calligraphy, Huang Tingjian was part of a circle of scholar-amateurs, or literati, who founded an artistic tradition. According to their ideas, art was a form of self-expression—a reflection of an individual’s character. In calligraphy, they developed personal styles, especially in running script, the script type displayed in Huang's Scroll for Zhang Datong.

While living in political exile, Huang received a visit from his nephew Zhang Datong, who asked for a sample of calligraphy. He responded by transcribing an essay by the Tang dynasty prose master Han Yu (768–824). Although the transcription was lost, Huang’s colophon is preserved in this scroll. Unlike characters written in more formal contexts, such as stele inscriptions or sacred texts, those in Huang’s scroll are loosely spaced and surprisingly asymmetrical. Elongated diagonal strokes, written with a quivering inflection of the brush, recur frequently, creating a strong impression of visual unity and inner strength. Although Huang’s bold running-script style is one of the most original in the history of Chinese art, it was partly based on the strangely shaped characters of Eulogy on Burying a Crane, a long-forgotten inscription carved on a cliff, which he believed to be from the hand of the revered calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303–361). Huang wrote this scroll while ill, yet despite his weakened condition, an impression of his inner vitality and physical power is transmitted through each character.

Further Readings

Shen C.Y. Fu, "Huang T'ing-chien's Calligraphy and His Scroll for Chang Ta-t'ung: A Masterpiece Written in Exile," Ph.d. dissertation (Princeton University, 1976).

Jay Xu, "Opposite Paths to Originality: Huang T'ing-chien and Mi Fu," in Robert E. Harrist, Jr., Wen C. Fong, et al., The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection (Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1999), pp. 261–79.

On the last day of the first month of the third year of the Yuanfu era, my nephew Zhang Datong from Yazhou was preparing his belongings to return home soon. He came to me and asked for some calligraphy. I have been having stomach and chest pains, and today I had some leisure time, so I tried using my brush to write this essay. Zhang Datong has been interested in learning ancient-style prose, so I am giving this to him.

It has been three years since I moved from Qiannan to Bodao. I’ve made my home in the area south of the city near a butcher. Weeds grow as high as the roof, and rats share the narrow path. But at least there are some young people who have persuaded me to teach them composition and calligraphy. They still preserve the habits of examination candidates in the capital area.

On a warm sunny day, I take my walking stick to help my limp and in leisure spend my time in mountains under trees or among clear streams and white stones. Among my various friends I am the oldest. Now I, Fuweng, am fifty-six. I still have foot trouble and cannot bend over. My belly seems to have something hard in it—it’s like carrying around a tile or stone. I don’t know if on a later day I will ever be able to write such characters as these again.

Gaozong (Song emp., r. 1127-62), 8 seals
  • "Nei fu shu yin" 內府書印 7 seals, square relief (over joints, top)
  • "Shao xing" 紹興 double square relief (end, 5th from bottom)
    Yang Yiqing 楊一清 (1454-1530), 1 seal
    Zhou Xiangyun 周湘雲 (act. 20th cent.), 7 seals
  • "Gumo Zhoushi Baomitang biji yin" 古墨周氏寶米堂秘笈印 tall rect. relief (ln. 1, bottom)
  • "Xiangyun biwan" 湘雲 sq. relief (before Wu Kuan colophon, top)
  • "Baomitang" sq. relief (before Wu Kuan colophon, bottom)
  • "Xiangyun shending" 湘雲審定 sq. intaglio (after Mo Shaode colophon, top)
  • "Gumo Zhoushi Baomitang biji yin" tall rect. relief (after Mo Shaode colophon, bottom)
    Zhang Daqian 張大千 (1899-1983), 14 seals
  • "Diguo zhi fu" 敵國之富 square relief (ln. 1, 3rd from bottom)
  • "Zhang Yuan zhi yin" 張爰之印 square relief (1st joint, bottom)
  • "Shu ke" 屬客 square relief (4th joint, bottom)
  • "Dafengtang" 大風堂 square relief (5th joint, bottom)
  • "Zhang Yuan changshou" 張爰長壽 square relief (6th joint, bottom)
  • "Dafengtang," large square relief (after Mo Shaode colophon, top)
  • Also see his colophon, below.
  • "Qi? -de zhong?-zheng" 耆德忠正 large square relief (lns. 1-2, top)

    Wang Duo 王鐸 (1592-1652), regular script; signed, Wang Duo; dated 1646.
    Wu Kuan 吳寬 (1435-1504), running script; signed, Wu Kuan; seal: "Wu Yuanbo yin" 吳原博印 square relief.
    Li Dongyang 李東陽 (1447-1516), running script; signed, Li Dongyang; seal: "Xiya" 西涯 rect. relief.
    Mo Shaode 莫紹德 (early 19th cent.), regular script; signed, Mo Shaode; dated 1812; seal: "Shao, de," double seal, square relief and intaglio.
    Zhang Daqian (Zhang Yuan 張爰, 1899-1983), running script; signed, Zhang Daqian; seals: "Zhang Yuan zhi yinxin" 張爰印信 square intaglio (top), "Daqian jushi" 大千居士 square relief (middle), "Baisui qianqiu" 百歲千秋 square relief (bottom).

    Published References & Reproductions (by date)
    Fushima Chūkei, "Kō Teikan shozō Chō Daidō kan" [Huang Tingjian's scroll for Zhang Dadong], Shohin 150 (1964), pp. 10-16, pls. 1-28.

    Richard Barnhart, "Chinese Calligraphy: The Inner World of the Brush," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30, no. 5 (1972), pp. 231, 232, figs. 1, 2.

    Shen C.Y. Fu, "Huang T'ing-chien's Calligraphy and His Scroll for Chang Ta-t'ung: A Masterpiece Written in Exile." Ph.d. dissertation, Princeton University, 1976.

    Shen C.Y. Fu, Traces of the Brush (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1977), p. 245, pl. 6.

    Nakata Yujirō, and Fu Shen, Ōbei shūzō Chūgoku hōsho meisekishū (Masterpieces of Chinese Calligraphy in American and European Collections) (Tokyo: Chūōkōron-sha, 1981-83), vol. 1, p. 139, pls. 59-66, color pl. 3.

    Wen C. Fong, Images of the Mind (Princeton: PUP, 1984), pp. 82-84, 256-261 no. 1. [Note: cited dimensions are incorrect]

    Zhongguo meishu quanji: Shufa quanke pian, eds. Zhongguo meishu quanji pianji weiyuanhui (Beijing: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1986), vol. 4, no. 25.

    Xu Bangda, Gu shuhua guo yan yaolu (Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 1987), pp. 276-77.

    Zhongguo lidai fashu moji daguan, gen. ed. Xie Zhiliu (Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1987- ), vol. 6, pp. 175-190.

    Julia Murray, "Sung Gaozong As Artist and Patron: The Theme of Dynastic Revival," in Artist's and Patrons, eds. Li Chu-tsing et al. (Lawrence, Kansas: Univ. of Washington Press, 1989), p. 29, fig. 2 (detail).

    Nakata Yujiro, Huang Tingjian, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Nigensha, 1994), 1: 82-87 (illus.), 2: 95-96.

    Robert E. Harrist, Jr., Wen C. Fong, et al., The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection (Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 1999), cat. no. 6, and pp. 108-109, 261-79.

    Peter Sturman, "Silencing the Cry of Cold Insects: Meaning and Design in the exile Calligraphy of Huang Tiangjian and Su Shi," Oriental Art, 46, no. 5 (2000), pp. 10-18 passim, figs. 1a-e, 2.

    Stephen J. Goldberg, "Tradition and Authorial Identity in Chinese Calligraphy: Three Works From the Elliott Collection," Oriental Art, 46, no. 5 (2000), p. 33, fig. 6.

    Osaka Shiritsu Bijutsukan ed., Umi o watatta Chūgoku no sho: Eriotto korekushon to Sō Gen no meiseki (The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection) (Tokyo: Yomiuri Shinbunsha, 2003), pp. 20-23, 292-93, cat. no. 6.