Poem in Running Script
This hanging scroll is a poem titled “On the Waters of Bolin Temple” in running script by Wang Duo, who was active in the 17th century, during the early Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Wang Duo rose to be the chief of the government agency that administered etiquette, rituals, and examinations for official posts under both the Ming and Qing dynasties. In China, people who served rulers of different dynasties were traditionally criticized as unprincipled, because they did not remain loyal to their former rulers. Wang Duo also became an object of disdain, and his excellent calligraphy was denied a fair appraisal until it finally attracted attention in the 20th century.
Bolin Temple is thought to refer to what is now Bolin Chan Temple in Zhao County of Shijiazhuang City in Hebei Province. There was once a painting of the rapids of the Yangzi River on a wall of Bolin Chan Temple. This wall is said to have been the work of the renowned 8th-and-9th-century Tang-dynasty (618–907) painter Wu Daozi. It was called “The Waters of Bolin Temple in Zhao Province” or “The Waters of Zhao Province” and was also a familiar subject in poetry.
Wang Duo transcribed this poem onto lustrous silk brocade with loose strokes in thick ink. He wrote three or four characters in succession, took in the flow and slant of what he had written, and balanced the composition as he formed the characters. The characters he wrote in this way are bold, richly varied, and brimming with dynamism. The three lines sway comfortably, displaying a natural flow with a wealth of variation in the quantity of ink, width of strokes, and size of characters, lending a sense of depth to the composition. Wang Duo studied classical calligraphy, focusing on the father and son Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi, who were active in the 4th century, during the Eastern Jin dynasty (317–420). He built up a unique form of expression supported by solid technique using running and cursive scripts, as seen in this hanging scroll.