Zhang Xian's Ten Odes
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Ten Odes, a lightly colored silk handscroll by the Song
Dynasty artist Zhang Xian (990-1078), measures 52 centimeters high by
125 centimeters long. At the beginning of the scroll, in the script
of the Qing emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1796), appear the words, "A profusion
of praise for this superior composition." The scroll concludes with
four passages by Chen Zhensun of the Southern Song, and the Yuan-period
Yan Yaohuan, Xian Yushu, and Tuotuo Mu'er. Within the painting also
appears an inscription by Sun Jue of the Northern Song.
Zhang Xian, courtesy name Ziye, was from Wucheng (present-day Wuxing
in Zhejiang Province), and held office as a Director in the Ministry
of Justice under the clerical name of Ce Ren. In 1072, Zhang Xian was
flipping through his father Zhang Wei's poetry when he found the eight-line
poem entitled "On the Poems Composed by the Six Elders in the Southern
Gardens at the Gathering Held by the Great Prefect Ma of Wuxing." This
poem commemorated a gathering of literary illuminaries convened by Prefect
Ma in 1046 in Huzhou. The Six Elders in attendance at the gathering
were: Lang Jian, Fan Shuo, Zhang Wei, Liu Weiqing, Zhou Shouzhong, Wu
Yan, and Hu Huan. Inspired by this work, Zhang Xian created Ten
Odes based on Zhang Wei's own "ten beloved poems written on
The first part of the scroll thus shows a corner of the Southern Gardens
in Wuxing, in which the principle structure is a tower. Inside the tower,
two of Prefect Ma's ministers face off in a game of chess. In a small
pavilion, two elders chat and enjoy the scenery, while another pair
of elders stroll along, one strumming the qin, and the other holding
a walking-stick. This section illustrates the content of three poems:
besides one poem of prologue, there are also the two poems "Courtyard
Cranes" and "Jade-Butterfly Flowers." From the Southern Gardens our
eye follows the water to the islets and sandbars along the facing shores;
to the thatched huts of small villages; to thickets of lush green vegetation;
and on to clusters of green mountains -- each taking their turn in illustrating
the content of the seven poems "Lone Sail," "Spending the Night at a
Cottage in Qingjiang," "Geese Returning," "Hearing the Anvil," "Chance
Writings While Spending the Night In Chen Village," "Sending off Scholar
Ding," and "A Destitute Girl." Ten Odes deftly weaves together
the different environments and different contents of ten poems in a
painting with only one central visual point. As a form of expression,
this richly creative technique occupies a unique place in the history
of Chinese painting.
Of Zhang Xian's painted works, only this one remains extant. We can
merely speculate as to whether or not it was painted by an assistant.
Judging by the mode of painting -- corresponding to that of Jing Hao
(ca. 855-915) and Guan Tong (early 10th c.) -- the style is early Northern
Song. Meanwhile, references in Chen Zhensun's inscription, such as "the
latter six years [are] modelled after Mingshu," referring to Zhou Mingshu
(or Zhou Jin, father of Zhou Mi and once owner of this scroll
see below) and his comment on the unnatural damage in the poem "Spending
the Night at a Cottage in Qingjiang," suggest that it is very likely
that this piece is not the original. However it also cannot be later
than Chen Zhensun's time. As a document it is extremely valuable, since
it is the only extant first-hand record of cultural events and people
of the time.
The work was first kept in the Zhang family home, but the Southern Song
was a period of increased connoiseurship, and the work passed next to
the family of Jia Sidao, and then in the late Southern Song and early
Yuan periods, to the family of Zhou Mi (1232-1298). Zhao Mengfu had
once inscribed a poem, but it does not appear in the present version,
which is why Xu Bangda suspects that it was cut out. During the Yuan,
someone from Suzhou brought it home with him. We know from the fact
that the scroll bears half of the early Ming stamp "Officer of Verification
of Ceremonies," that the scroll at one point entered a Ming imperial
household. It has over ten seals of the Qing emperors Qianlong (r. 1736-1796)
and Jiaqing (r. 1796-1821), and is also recorded in the second edition
of the imperial inventory Shiqu baoji (completed 1793). It
has three seals of the last Qing emperor Puyi (1906-1967). Puyi took
the painting to Changchun. After the demise of Manzhouguo, the painting
was stolen, and we don't know what happened to it next. But then in
the fall of 1995 Ten Odes resurfaced at the Hanhai Auction
Company in Beijing, and was purchased by the Palace Museum for RMB18
million, a record-breaking sum in China for the purchase of a painting
XU Bangda. "The Ten Odes scroll by Northern Song artist Zhang
Xian (Bei Song Zhang Xian Shi yong tu juan)," in the 5 October
1995 catalogue of the Hanhai Auction Company, Beijing.
YANG Xin. "National Treasures Lost Then Recovered (Shierfude di guobao),"
Wenwu tiandi (World of Artifacts), 1996.1.
YANG Lili. "No Hesitation in Bidding for a Magnificent Piece (Buxi juzi
zhenggou di Shi yong tu)," Meishu jiancha (Art Observation),
For another viewpoint, see "On
the Inauthenticity of Ten Odes by Zhang Xian of the Northern
Song Dynasty" in this issue.
Two other articles, "New Discoveries
of Calligraphy and Painting from the Palace Museum's 'List of Lost Works'"
and "Exhibition of Treasures
of Painting and Calligraphy Acquired by the Palace Museum over the Last
50 Years," also mention Ten Odes.
China Central Institute of Fine Arts
On the State of the Field
Scholarship in the History of Ancient Painting in the 1990s
by Xue Yongnian
New Discoveries of Calligraphy
and Painting from the Palace Museum's "List of Lost Works"
by Liu Jianlong
A Record-Breaking Purchase by the Palace Museum
Zhang Xian's Ten Odes
by Yang Lili
Zhang Xian's Ten Odes: Counterpoint
On the Inauthenticity of Ten
Odes by Zhang Xian of the Northern Song Dynasty
by Wu Gan
Select Bibliography on Chinese Painting
Palace Museum Exhibition
"Treasures of Painting
and Calligraphy Acquired by the Palace Museum over the Last 50 Years"
by Fu Dongguang
Palace Museum Exhibition
of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years"
Palace Museum Symposium
Academic Symposium Accompanying
Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years" at the Palace
by Wang Qi
The Shanghai Museum
Holds A Symposium on Its Exhibition of Masterpieces
by Xue Yongnian
Liaoning Provincial Museum
An Assembly of Masterpieces,
Presented in Radiant Splendor: Record of the "Exhibition of Treasures from
the Ten Great Archaeological Discoveries in Liaoning"
by Ma Cheng
Results from the Liao Tomb Excavation at Jarud Qi
by Tala, Yang Jie, and Dong Linxin
Han Tombs with Wall Paintings at Otog
by Wang Dafang and Yang Zemeng
and Analysis of the Murals Unearthed from a Song Tomb at Wang Shang Village
in Dengfeng, Henan Province
by Zhang Songlin and Zhang Deshui
Breakthrough in the Interpretation of the 'Stone Carvings' at Junshan"
by Chen Xiangyuan
on the Excavation of Han Tomb No. 1 at Huxi Mountain, Yuanling"
by Guo Weimin
Designs and Chinese Script on the 'Five Stars of the East Favor the Central
by Li Ling
from China Archaeology and Art Digest 3:2/3 (January 2000): Painting
and Pictorial Arts
Ding Xiyuan on Quehua
Hao Junhong on Ma
Shan Guoqiang on "Haipai"
Yu Hui on Yuan court artists
Macao Art Museum
"The Efflorescence of a Prosperous Age: Fine Works of Qing Dynasty Painting
and Objects of the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong Reigns in the Collection
of the Palace Museum"
National Gallery, Washington, DC
Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from the People's Republic
by Andrew K. Y. Leung
Qingming shanghe Scroll and Qingming shanghe Studies
by Wang Qi
by Nie Chongzheng
Chai Zejun: Collected
Works on Ancient Architecture
Years of Archaeology in New China
Volume 1, Issue 1 (October 1999)