Copy of the Inscription on the Chugong Bell

Nakabayashi Gochiku I 中林梧竹 Japanese

Not on view

This narrow vertical composition comprises three columns of intriguing and eye-catching archaic Chinese characters faithfully copied by the modern Japanese scholar-calligrapher Nakabayashi Gochiku. It is a partial copy of an inscription on the Late Western Zhou bronze bell called the Chu Gong Jia zhong 楚公𧱌鐘, or colloquially the Chugong Bell, which was excavated in the Song Dynasty.

Gochiku, as a scholar with an interest in Chinese antiquarian studies, certainly would have known the inscription from being published in Inscriptions on Zhong, Yi, Ding Vessels of Jiguzhai (Jiguzhai zhong ding yi qi kuanshi 積古斎鐘鼎彝器款識), a ten-volume series of antiquarian catalogs dedicated to the inscriptions on bronze vessels. This series was published by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849) in 1804. According to the entry for the Chugong Bell, the inscription was reproduced from a set of Song-dynasty rubbings. Due to the restricted size of the book, the vertical composition of the inscription was split across two pages, presenting the upper and lower parts of the inscription separately. Gochiku misunderstood the formatting and thought the characters on the second page were a continuation of the first page (rather than as the bottom section; the two columns of characters from the second page are indicated by a slash (/) mark below). Thus, he mistakenly rearranged the characters in the wrong sequence, so they were copied in the following way:

申楚 / 子其寶萬年壽

Gochiku clearly did not fully understand all the characters as he was copying them, as the book only offered him a partial transcription. In any case, we can be sure that Gochiku was more interested in the aesthetic appeal of each of the characters of the inscription, while at the same time recognizing the connotation of wishing for the ruler's longevity, as indicated by the final five characters of the third column of the inscription: 其寶萬年壽 (treasuring ten-thousand years of longevity). Thus, he copied the part of the inscription that ends with this auspicious phrase.

Nagabayashi Gochiku was one of the most celebrated calligraphers of the Meiji era, known for his archaic style that was inspired by rubbings of steles and bronze vessels from early China. In his youth, he studied with poet-calligrapher Ichikawa Beian (1779–1913), and later in his career he studied with the Chinese Consul General Yu Yuanmei 余元眉. He also traveled with Yu to China to further his studies in calligraphy. In 1931, he published Gochiku's Discussions on Calligraphy (Gochikudō showa 梧竹堂書話), in which he outlined his principles for creating calligraphy. He believed that calligraphers should strive to capture the essence of works from the Han and Wei dynasties, learn the brushstrokes of the Sui and Tang dynasties, and embrace the aesthetics of the Jin dynasty. He further stated that these principles should be carried out on calligraphy with the identity of a Japanese samurai, with the mindset of serving the emperor.

Copy of the Inscription on the Chugong Bell, Nakabayashi Gochiku I 中林梧竹 (Japanese, 1827–1913), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, Japan

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