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The Art of Letters

Artist:
Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559)
Period:
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Date:
dated 1544 and 1547
Culture:
China
Medium:
Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:
Image: 9 1/16 x 46 3/8 in. (23 x 117.8 cm) Overall with mounting: 9 5/16 x 288 1/16 in. (23.7 x 731.7 cm)
Classification:
Calligraphy
Credit Line:
Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988
Accession Number:
1989.363.63
Not on view
Signature: Signed, dated 1544–47, three artist's seals.

Wen Zhengming's colophon to the scroll, which follows immediately after the text of The Art of Letters briefly recounts how he wrote out the scroll. It reads:
In the third month of the jiazhen year (1544) of the Jiajing reign, I went by Mr. Buan's (Hua Yun) Green Bamboo Thicket. He took out a piece of paper and asked me to write out this prose-poem. I returned home having written for three days without reaching the midpoint. Now I have returned to finish it up. Three years have come and gone, and day by day writing becomes ever more striking, the bigger it grows. This may be called the ability to combine what Cai Xiang (1012–1062) and Shi Yannian (994–1041) could not. Furthermore, The Art of Letters comprises a thousand and several hundred words, and though he was approaching 80 (sui)years old, he wrote it out from memory without resort to looking it up. In this respect Fang Pang's (1370139) Biography as written out by Huang Tinjian occupies an inferior position. Who says ancients?
[Trans. Marc F. Wilson/ Kuan S. Wong]

Inscription: Colophons:
Lu Shidai (1511–1547)
Wang Shu (1668–1743), dated 1727
Jiang Heng (1672–1743), dated 1727
Liang Zhangzhu (1775–1848), dated 1838

Marking: Collectors' seals:
Lu Shidai (1511–1547)
Chen Zun (active late 18th–early 19th century)
Jean-Pierre Dubosc
John M. Crawford, Jr.
Unidentified, 6 seals
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