Ten Poems and Five Letters in Running and Cursive Scripts


Ten Poems and Five Letters in Running and Cursive Scripts

calligraphy / Yuan Dynasty / China

By Xianyu Shu (1257-1302)

Place of production:China

Yuan dynasty, 13th century

Ink on paper



This scroll by Xianyu Shu, one of the leading calligraphers of the Yuan dynasty in China in the 13th century, features poetry and five letters carefully placed together. The prose itself talks about a pine tree named Zhi Li Sou, which Xianyu Shu had planted near his new home. This pine tree was less than a meter tall, but was said to have quite a unique shape, like a dragon lying with its belly on the ground. While it was an old tree, it sprouted new foliage the following year, surprising all those who saw it. Xianyu Shu is said to have loved Zhi Li Sou deeply; he had his friend Zhao Mengfu, a great calligrapher, complete a painting of the tree, and Dai Biaoyuan, a great writer, write the life story of the tree, before combining them in a scroll. Within this prose is a preface which recalls this process, along with 10 poems of eight lines, each line containing five Chinese characters.

Among the letters that follow the poems, the second and third are written for someone named Cheng Xu Zhen Ren. In these two letters, Xianyu Shu describes his family’s medical conditions, and asks for treatment advice, which seems to indicate that Cheng Xu Zhen Ren is a doctor. In the famous 16th century Ming dynasty collection of calligraphy, Tingyunguan Tie, the same type of letter was included, and it is mentioned that Xianyu Shu sent 10 poems about the pine tree Zhi Li Sou to Cheng Xu Zhen Ren. From this we can assume that the letters in this scroll today are the originals of the letters sent to Cheng Xu Zhen Ren. It is possible that the letters were stored together, eventually placed together and turned into a scroll, and then handed down in the form we see today. Compared with the finely detailed writing of the poems, the characters in the letters have strong lines with a natural, bold style.

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