The Embodied Image
Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection
September 15, 2000–January 7, 2001
Accompanied by a catalogue
The most important and comprehensive display of calligraphy ever assembled in the West, this exhibition brings together some one hundred works of art from the two principal collections of Chinese calligraphy in the United States. More than fifty-five masterworks from the John B. Elliott Collection of the Princeton Art Museum at Princeton University—perhaps the finest such collection outside Asia—are integrated with a number of similar masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, most notably from the John M. Crawford Jr. Collection, and loans from six private collections. Spanning the period from the fourth century to the modern era, the exhibition explores the stylistic range and individuality of many of the leading artists of the last one thousand years.
In China, calligraphy is regarded as the quintessential visual art, ranking above painting as the most important vehicle for individual expression. By the fourth century, writing had become a fine art in China, and earlier scribal styles were transformed into highly regarded instruments of personal articulation. After a brief review of the evolution of the principal script types—from the first writings engraved on "oracle bones" beginning in the late fourteenth century B.C., to the perfection of standard script in the seventh century A.D.—and an extraordinary survey of the varied writing styles attributed to the fourth-century "calligraphic sage" Wang Xizhi, the exhibition presents a chronological survey of the immensely varied personal interpretations of these script types that flourished from the eleventh to the twentieth century on hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and album leaves.