Chinese painting is a special field of art; it is a charming world, which encourages a viewer to enter it and enjoy all the beauties of its masterpieces. Considering a Chinese painting resembles some kind of dialogue with the past (Hearn). In the 4th century, the practice of calligraphy reached the status of high art in China. Such calligraphy experts as Zhao Mengfu, Ouyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing, and Liu Gongquan refer to Four Great Calligraphers of their time.
It would be better to begin the discussion of prominent calligraphers with deeper considering the art of calligraphy itself. The word “calligraphy” can be literally translated as “good writing” (The Art of Chinese Calligraphy). Nevertheless, Chinese calligraphy is by no means simply beautiful writing. Calligraphy is a means of emotions and thoughts transfer; it has been a significant part of Chinese culture throughout the last 4000 years. There are several styles in calligraphy: regular, running, seal, cursive, and official. Each style has its own peculiarities and purpose. Chinese calligraphers distinguish seven strokes consisting of a sharp curve, a horizontal and vertical line, a dot, and a sweeping downward stroke.
Zhao Mengfu is a representative of Yuan Dynasty. This painter is fairly considered one of the Four Great Calligraphers (Chen Yanqiu). Zhao Mengfu was talented in many respects: poetry, bamboo pipe playing, calligraphy, and some others. Many people know the painter by his nickname “Zi’ang” or his pseudonym “Songxue.”
The painter-to-be was born in 1254 in the family of a well-off collector. However, when Zhao’s father died (when the boy was just eleven), the family faced many difficulties. Zhao’s young years refer to a special period in the history of China when the South Song Dynasty was replaced by the Yuan Dynasty (1986). At the age of 23, Mengfu was advised by the Censor-in-chief Cheng Jufu to visit Yuan Shizu Emperor Kublai Khan (Four Great Regular Script Masters-Zhao Mengfu). The latter was impressed with the young man’s talent and suggested him to take the position of the director of the Bureau of Military of War. It was the beginning of his successful career, which reached its highest point in 1316.
Like many talented people, Zhao Mengfu was successful in many activities, but the best were calligraphy and painting. A new style of painting was created by him; the style was considered the “Top Crown of Yuan Dynasty” (Four Great Regular Script Masters-Zhao Mengfu). Being an expert at various styles of calligraphy, Zhao was especially skillful at cursive hand and regular script. Many Mengfu’s authentic paintings were saved through hundreds of years, including “Autumn colors on the Que and Hua Mountains,” “Horse Herding in Autumn Countryside”, and “Monk in a Red Robe.”
Zhao Mengfu left the heritage of his various wonderful works. The calligraphist could truly boast of a neat, noble and gentle handwriting (Chen Yanqiu). Moreover, Zhao’s calligraphy had a considerable impact on further generations. Xian Yushu, Wen Huiming, and Emperor Qian Long are among his followers. After Wang Xizhi and Yan Zhenqing, Zhao Mengfu was the third great calligraphist.
Zhao’s “Horse and groom” is a painting that can be interpreted as a recommendation for the authorities to pay attention to the talents of their people and use their skills in a way that is beneficial for the society Hearn<.
One of Zhao’s best works is “Qiu’e Mu Bei Ming,” a regular script consisting of 192 lines. This work differs from other traditional Mengfu’s works and is considered a real masterpiece. The script was completed by the author in 1320; it was written in a very elegant and graceful manner close to perfection (Chen Yanqiu).
Another remarkable work by Zhao Mengfu is the inscription on the “Yanjiang Die Zhang Tu”. This running script contains larger characters than usual. “Yanjiang Die Zhang Tu” was written by Wang Shen referred to Northern Song Dynasty. At the moment, the work can be found at the Shanghai Museum. What is remarkable is that Zhao Mengfu rarely used complicated characters in his works; nevertheless, each time Zhao wrote them, it was done as carefully as it was only possible (Chen Yanqiu).
Discussing Chinese painting, it is difficult not to mention scholar-official works. Zhao outlined the new artistic scholar-amateur paradigm. The painter combined his wonderful calligraphy skills with scholar-official training. One should bear in mind that Zhao Mengfu was a gifted scholar; this is why his decision concerning a style and a subject for a painting was usually made only after a thorough consideration. His work “Twin Pines, Level Distance” contains an inscription added over a landscape (Hearn). Pines are evergreen; that is why a pine symbolically resembles survival. With its outstretched boughs protecting smaller trees, a pine can be compared with a noble gentleman. This painting can be interpreted in two ways: as the self-portrait and as the depiction of another specific person (Hearn).
Zhao Mengfu enriched Chinese cultural heritage with wonderful paintings and showed himself as one of the best calligraphers. Another great calligrapher is Ouyang Xun.
Ouyang Xun was born in Linxiang, Tanzhau, in 557 (Four Great Regular Script Masters-Ouyang Xun). Ouyang Xun is also known by his style name Xinben. The calligrapher lived at the time of political changes: the Sui and Chen Dynasties were replaced by the Tang Dynasty. Xinben was in high favor with Emperor Taizong Li Shimin, who awarded him with ranks of Academician (Hongwen Academy) and, moreover, Baron of Bohai. It must be mentioned that Xinben was lucky to live in a unique time of Chinese history; it was in the period of Tang Dynasty, when calligraphy was finally taken seriously (The Art of Chinese Calligraphy).
Ouyang Xun was adept in ancient history, as well as Chinese classics. His contribution to literature was a hundred-volume book called “Yiwen Leiju,” which can be translated as “Collection of Literature Arranged by Categories” (Four Great Regular Script Masters-Ouyang Xun). Various styles of calligraphy by Wang Xianzhi and Wang Xizhi were studied by Ouyang Xun at the beginning of his acquaintance with calligraphy. Xinben’s following studies included Qin seal characters and Wei stone tablets.
Like Zhao Mengfu, Ouyang Xun was especially skillful at regular script. Works written in regular script were magnificent because of his rigorous and noble strokes; their order and structure also impress with their uniqueness. Xinben’s specific style got the name “Ou Style" or “Lvgeng Style” (Four Great Regular Script Masters-Ouyang Xun). Ouyang Xun left many fine works for the following generations, such as performed in regular script Stone Tablet for the Hua-Du Monastery, Epitaph for Yao Bian, Stele in the Jiucheng Palace and many others. There also remained as Stone Tablet for Fang Yanqian, made in official script, Zhang Han Si Lu Tie, written in running script, and aberrant copy of Qian Zi Wen that was made using cursive hand.
It would be unfair not to mention calligraphic theory books written by Ouyang Xun: for instance, “Yong Bi Lun” and “36 Methods”.
Gentle and vigorous manner of writing was one common feature for all four great regular script calligraphers. Ouyang Xun’s works performed in regular script is a brilliant specimen of high-grade works that contributed Chinese history a lot. Considering “Stele in the Jiucheng Palace” one can get acquainted with regular script in practice (Four Great Regular Script Masters-Ouyang Xun).
The world of Chinese painting and calligraphy is enticing and magnificent. The art of Chinese calligraphy is more than just a nice way to write Chinese characters. Chinese painting creates invisible bridge between a viewer and the painter. The Chinese culture is rich of brilliant works created by such prominent calligraphers as Zhao Mengfu, Ouyang Xun, Xian Yushu, Wang Xizhi, Yan Zhenqing, and many others. Zhao Mengfu was wonderful calligrapher who lived in the period of the Yuan Dynasty and the South Song Dynasty. Like most gifted people, Zhao was talented in many areas of art: poetry, painting, calligraphy, and even bamboo pipe playing. Among the most famous works written by Zhao Mengfu are “Autumn colors on the Que and Hua Mountains,” “Horse Herding in Autumn Countryside”, “Twin Pines, Level Distance,” and many others. Zhao Mengfu created a particular style which became known as “Top Crown of Yuan Dynasty.” Zhao’s best performance refers to regular script.
Another prominent regular script calligrapher is Ouyang Xun, also known by his courtesy name Xinben. The calligrapher created a great number of remarkable works, for instance, “Epitaph for Yao Bian,” regular script Stone Tablet for the Hua-Du Monastery, and others. The calligraphist lived in the time of Tang Dynasty – the time, when calligraphy was of higher value than it had been before. Both Zhao Mengfu and Ouyang Xun are considered the masters of regular script. These outstanding calligraphers created many brilliant works that were handed through many centuries and made a considerable contribution to the Chinese culture.