Treatise on Calligraphy (書譜)
Sun Guoting (孫過庭, fl. latter half of 7th c.), Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Handscroll, ink on paper, 26.5 x 900.8 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
The first column of this handscroll at the right translates as follows: "Chapter One of Essay on Calligraphy. By Sun Guoting of Wujun." The end of the scroll at the left states, "Record written in the third year of the Chuigong era (687 AD)." The content itself deals mainly with the author's experiences in calligraphy, and some basic principles of calligraphy. This handscroll is generally considered to be the preface to a longer work. Sometime from the 10th to 15th century, it was cut into two pieces. Coming into the hands of the Ming dynasty collector Yan Song (嚴嵩, 1480-1565), it was remounted as a single work again. It is believed to have been originally composed of two chapters, the second of which was the main essay that the author did not finish.
Sun Guoting specialized in cursive script using the style of Wang Xizhi (王羲之, ca. 303-361). Sun's style is exceptionally accomplished, and it remained unparalleled throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907). The paper and ink of this work are in a remarkable state of preservation, providing a detailed and clear account of his dazzling brushwork. This is not only an exceptionally insightful essay on the study of calligraphy, but it is also an ideal model for the art of cursive script. It represents a style that fuses a straightforward quality with beautiful elegance. Sun Guoting sometimes held the brush straight and other times at an angle. The tip of the brush is occasionally exposed. The brushwork dashes forth, changing constantly in a way that never ceases to amaze the viewer. The brushwork is free and easy throughout, achieving an unconscious synergy between hand and mind.