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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: China
Title: A commentary on the classics of histories and poetry
Date: 1624
Medium: Handscroll: ink on silk
Dimensions: Image: 11 1/8 x 272 3/8 inches (28.3 x 691.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Professor Ray Wu and Christina C. Wu
Object Number: 86.108
Label Text: In traditional Chinese culture, calligraphy enjoyed elevated status as a higher art form than painting. The quality of an individual’s calligraphy would reveal their cultivation, conduct, and fitness for becoming a government official. Among the literati, a firm grounding in the study of calligraphy was considered necessary for mastering the brush techniques of painting.

By the late Ming dynasty, calligraphy had become an important means of personal expression and individualists such as Zhang Ruitu developed their own unique styles. A senior government official from Jinjiang, Fujian province, Zhang Ruitu earned admiration for his eccentric approach to draft-cursive calligraphy (zhangcao) in which the vertical lines are spaced widely apart, but the individual characters are stacked closely together. In this scroll, the strokes of each character present a spiky, angular appearance that is a hallmark of Zhang’s style. ("Xu Bing: The Character of Characters," curated by Ellen Avril and presented at the Johnson Museum August 11-December 23, 2018)


Zhang Ruitu, a senior government official from Jinjiang, Fujian Province, was considered one of the four masters of calligraphy of the late Ming Dynasty, along with Xing Tong (1551-1612), Dong Qichang (1555-1636), and Mi Wanzhong (d. 1628). A Commentary on the Classics of Histories and Poetry reflects Zhang's highly individualistic mature style in cursive script, notable for the widely spaced columns of tightly packed characters. Each character is executed in a prickly style with accentuation on the lateral movement of the brushstrokes.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.