Poem of Fragrance (穠芳詩帖)
Emperor Huizong (宋徽宗, 1082-1135), Song Dynasty (960-1279)
Handscroll, ink on silk, 27.2 x 265.9 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
The common name for Emperor Huizong was Zhao Ji (趙佶). Reigning as the eighth emperor of the Song dynasty from 1101 to 1125, Huizong was known for his extravagant lifestyle, which is believed to be part of the reason for the near collapse of the dynasty and his own demise at enemy hands. However, he was also known for his passion for painting, calligraphy, poetry, and prose. His painting and calligraphy are marked by exceptional refinement and observation to detail. His paintings of birds-and-flowers, in particular, are renowned for their realism and beauty. Huizong was the guiding force behind the Painting Academy in the late Northern Song, and his overall influence on early Chinese painting cannot be overestimated.
Huizong called his own calligraphic style "slender gold." This style has its origins with those of Xue Ji (薛稷, 649-713) and Xue Yao (薛曜, fl. 684-704) of the Tang dynasty, which in turn evolved out of that of Chu Suiliang (褚遂良, 596-658). The slender gold style is characterized by the thin, sharp quality of the strokes as well as the knobby features to the turns and stops of the brush, making the calligraphy appear delicate yet solid. For example, when doing a horizontal stroke, the brush is drawn evenly from left to right, but then at the end, the brush is pressed down diagonally to create a firm stop. Then, with a pause, a trace is shown for the movement of the brush to the next stroke. Although the characters appear formally spaced and sized here as in standard script, the flaring quick movement of the brush at the stops and turns has a light and spirited manner similar to that of running or cursive script. The characters here are also quite large – in fact, the largest among surviving works by Huizong.