978-0-8109-6377-1 / 9780810963771

Embodied Image


Publisher:Harry N. Abrams



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About the book:

Could the prominent appearance of large, boldly brushed Chinese characters on the cover of House & Garden magazine (May 1999) signal that Americans are ready to appreciate the ancient but often modern-looking art of calligraphy? The Embodied Image offers both stellar examples of Chinese calligraphy and tools with which to view it. And it successfully bridges the gap between the non-Chinese reader's concern over incomprehension, the modernist's appreciation of calligraphy as linear abstraction, and the traditional connoisseur's approach.

Edited by art historians Robert Harrist and Wen C. Fong and with contributions from 11 other scholars, the volume documents the calligraphy collection of Princeton University's Art Museum, which Fong calls "the only collection outside China and Japan that properly represents the sixteen-hundred-year history of this highly prized ... art form." Filled with marvels ranging from one of the earliest known fragments of the classic text Tao Te Ching to letters and scrolls by artists who are the Rembrandts and Picassos of the medium, The Embodied Image presents Chinese calligraphy in terms of brushwork, as text, as the expression of the writer's personal cultivation, and as the underpinning of later (if not all) Chinese painting.

There's plenty of ink play for the eye to dance over: fluid, angular, stiff, or scratchy. The accompanying texts--two introductory essays on calligraphic history and theory and eight specialized ones, with various levels of detail--allow readers to choose their own depth. But the visual "text" alone is illuminating and provides pleasure. The 55 featured works, dating from 270 to the 1870s, are divided into seven groups, with short historical introductions preceding the works (reproduced in color and nuanced duotone). Four hundred more illustrations, including character comparisons, are enormously helpful, as is the labeling of the parts of a 12-foot scroll assembled over several centuries around a traced copy of a two-line fragment of a letter by the most influential calligrapher of all, Wang Hsi-chih.

The book was published for an exhibition at Princeton University in 1999, touring New York and Seattle through 2001, but The Embodied Image will long contribute to the understanding of an art that is itself more than two millennia old. --Joseph Newland

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