Cold Food Observance (寒食帖)

Su Shi (蘇軾, 1037–1101), Song Dynasty (960–1279)

Handscroll, ink on paper, 34.2 x 199.5 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

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       This piece represents two poems that Su Shi wrote during his exile to Huangzhou in 1082. It was transcribed into a work of calligraphy sometime thereafter. Despite Su’s upbeat character, the poetry has an air of dejection to it. The characters and the distance between them, for example, seem to vary rhythmically according to the emotional content.

       In terms of semi-cursive script, the size of the characters here ranges considerably. Su Shi once said of his own calligraphy that it is “everything from short to long, plump to bony (短長肥脊各有態).” Here, the size of the characters is sometimes reserved, other times bold. Characters that particularly stand out include those in lines 2 (年), 5 (中), 11 (葦), and 13 (紙) from the right, where their last vertical stroke trails down for some distance to stand out against the blank paper. The variation in the thickness of and distance between the lines as well as the size of the characters help to give this work a uniquely individual quality. In fact, Su Shi’s calligraphy represents one of the more personal styles of the period. Furthermore, another great Song calligrapher, Huang Tingjian (黃庭堅, 1045–1105), wrote a colophon for this work sometime before the ninth lunar month of 1100. The sizes of the characters in Huang’s colophon are even larger than Su’s, creating an ideal complement to this masterpiece of calligraphy.

釋文:自我來黃州,已過三寒食。年年欲惜春,春去不容惜。今年又苦雨,兩月秋蕭瑟。臥聞海棠花,泥污燕支雪。闇中偷負去,夜半真有力。何殊病少年(子點去),病起鬚已白。
春江欲入戶,雨勢來不已。(雨點去)小屋如漁舟,濛濛水雲裏。空庖煮寒菜,破竈燒濕葦。那知是寒食,但見烏銜紙。君門深九重,墳墓在萬里。也擬哭塗窮,死灰吹不起。
右黃州寒食詩帖二首。

Cold Food Observance
Cold Food Observance
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