Box of Herbs (土母帖)
Li Jianzhong (李建中, 945–1013), Song Dynasty (960–1279)
Album leaf, ink on paper, 31.3 x 44.7 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
Li Jianzhong, courtesy name Dezhong (得中), was a native of Shu (modern Sichuan). In 983, during the early Northern Song, he became a Presented Scholar and served in such government positions as Erudite of the Chamberlain of Ceremonials, Auxiliary in the Academy of Scholarly Worthies, and Director of the Ministry of Works. In later years, he lived in the Western Capital (Xijing, 西京; modern Luoyang, Henan) and was quite attracted to the local customs of the people there. Three times he requested to remain as the Regent Censor of the Western Capital, which is why he was known as “Western Censor Li (Li Xitai, 李西臺)”.
Although the recipient is unknown, the letter mentions the site “Quemen” (modern Mt. Quemen, Xin’an County, Henan Province 河南新安縣闕門山), which may indicate it was written by Li in his later years when he was in the Western Capital. The use of the brush is centered and rounded, and the composition of each character is thick and dense. The overall structure is still solemn, but the brushstrokes have certain graceful charm, giving the characters both solidity and attractiveness. Although showing much influence of Yan Zhenqing (顏真卿, 709–785) and Yang Ningshi (楊凝式, 873–954), there is also evidence of the style of the Two Wangs <Wang Xizhi (王羲之, ca. 303–361) and Wang Xianzhi (王獻之, 344–386)>, revealing the trend of calligraphy during the Five Dynasties and early Song period. Zhao Mengfu(趙孟頫, 1254–1322) was not exaggerating when he wrote, “The calligraphy of Xitai is not far from the Tang, and he has captured the spirit of Tang masters (西台書去唐未遠，猶有唐人餘風).”