Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering (Wu Bing Copy of the Ding Wu Version)
This handscroll is a stone rubbing of Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering by Wang Xizhi, a celebrated Eastern-Jin-dynasty (317–420) official and calligrapher who was active during the 4th century. Wang was born into a well-known noble family in what is now the city of Linyi in southeastern Shandong Province facing the Yellow Sea. He was recognized even more for the fact that his calligraphy was respected by generations of emperors and powerful people than for his achievements as a government official. When Wang was alive, cursive script and running script, developed from clerical script, and was used for everyday writing. Wang Xizhi used these common calligraphic styles to establish innovative new forms of expression and elevate calligraphy into the realm of art.
The second emperor of the Tang dynasty (618–907), Taizong, praised Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy, saying, “The phoenix soars, and the dragon coils.” Taizong gathered Wang’s scattered calligraphic works on a national scale and assembled a massive collection. He then had them sorted and reproductions of them made by court officials who excelled in appraisal or calligraphy. It is said that Taizong loved Wang’s masterpiece Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering so much that he had it interred in his imperial mausoleum with him after his death.
Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering is a manuscript of Wang Xizhi’s preface to a collection of poems composed at a banquet he held with 41 notables, amid the beautiful natural scenery of an orchid pavilion located in Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province, at the foot of the Kuaiji Mountains, where he had been appointed as an official. Like Wang Xizhi’s other calligraphic works, his original manuscript does not survive, leaving only reproductions such as copies and stone rubbings. This stone rubbing of Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering was made from a faithful copy of Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy by Ouyang Xun in service to Taizong. The stone tablet into which Ouyang’s copy was carved was discovered in Dingwu, which is now Dingzhou in Hebei Province, in the 11th century, during the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). The stone rubbings made from it are therefore known as the “Dingwu Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering.” This rubbing is also known as the “Wu Bing version” because it was owned by a person named Wu Bing during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). It is a Song-dynasty Dingwu Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering well-known for its age. In addition to Wu Bing, generations of master calligraphers and painters have appreciated and inscribed comments on this handscroll and stamped it with numerous seals. It is clear that the antique script of this stone rubbing has been loved and esteemed since ancient times.