Song of the Stone Drums

Xianyu Shu

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 210

Xianyu Shu was a northerner who, at about the age of thirty, moved south, eventually settling in Hangzhou. There, he impressed his southern friends with his calligraphy, connoisseurship, and "heroic" northern spirit. Even Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), a close friend, acknowledged Xianyu's superiority in cursive writing.

One of Xianyu's most famous works, this scroll is a transcription of a poem by Han Yu (768–824) beseeching the preservation of the ten ancient Stone Drums, monuments carved with poems in archaic seal script around the fifth century B.C. Its vigorous brushwork displays both the freedom and energy of Xianyu's northern heritage and the new sophistication acquired through his study of Jin- and Tang-dynasty masters.

Song of the Stone Drums, Xianyu Shu (Chinese, 1246–1302), Handscroll; ink on paper, China

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