ZHU YUNMING (1460-1526)
ZHU YUNMING (1460-1526)

Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe

ZHU YUNMING (1460-1526)
Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe
Handscroll, ink on paper
31.5 x 211 cm. (12 3/8 x 83 1/8 in.)
Signed, with one seal of the artist
Colophons by Chen Jiru (1558-1639), Dong Qichang (1555-1636) and Wang Zhideng (1535-1636), with a total of four seals of the artists
Twenty-six collector’s seals, including seven of Wang Wegbo (1659-1725)
Wu Zhi, Record of Colophons Found in Authentic Works, a manuscript of the Qing dynasty (17th-18th Century).
Ye Yuanfeng ed., Model Calligraphies in the Collection of Huhai Ge,Vol. 3, 1835.
Rong Geng, Complete Collection of Rong Gengs Academic Works Catalogue on Model Calligraphies, Book II, Chung Hua Book Co. Ltd., Beijing, January 2012, p.695.
Further details
A Fable of Medicinal Herbs:
Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe by Zhu Yunming

As a bright and precocious child, Zhu Yunming followed the family tradition and studied calligraphy. He had recalled that his family “prohibited [me] from emulating the recent and contemporary calligraphic styles. All I encountered was calligraphy from the Jin and Tang dynasties.” Indeed, he adhered to this philosophy while honing his own individual style, and became one of the most celebrated calligraphers who excelled in every script, especially in the small-standard and cursive scripts.

In Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe, more than 80 types of Chinese medicinal herbs and ingredients like Chinese Angelica, Polygala, Artemisia Anomala and Feather Cockscomb Seed are ingeniously employed to create the story. It is an imitation of a type of novel popular in the Tang dynasty, where whimsical and fantastical stories are told through poetry with quasi-historical background, which demonstrates the author’s perspectives as well as his mastery of literary composition and knowledge of history. In his colophon, Chen Jiru points out the source of this story’s inspiration—Han Yu’s Biography of Mao Yin. Dong Qichang, on the other hand, suggests in his colophon that Zhu Yunming himself has written this humorous story. According to Ming accounts, there are two possible candidates for the authorship of Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe: Sun Daya of the early Ming from Jiangying and Xiao Shao from Changshu (active during the Ming Xuande reign). Fond of antiquity, curios, and legends, Zhu Yunming has authored stories and novels featuring ghosts and paranormal activities. As such, the authorship of Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe is further complicated, especially given Dong Qichang’s assessment.

Zhu Yuning transcribes Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe in running-cursive script on paper, with smooth and elegant brushwork throughout. Wang Zhideng has commented that this handscroll appears “sometimes charming, sometimes archaistic, and sometimes untrammelled.” This is reminiscent of the way the famous general Han Xin devised his military strategies—the established mixed with the unorthodox—unpredictable and wide-ranging. Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe was owned by someone named “Taichong” during the Ming dynasty, with colophons by Dong Qichang(1555-1636), Chen Jiru(1558-1639) and Wang Zhideng (1535-1636). In early Qing it became part of the collection of Wang Wegbo (1659-1725). Then it belonged to Ye Yuanfeng (1797-1849) and towards the end of the Qing dynasty, it entered the collection of Cheng Zhengyi (19th Century).

Since the end of Song dynasty the Ye family resided in Cixi of the Zhejiang province. They prospered and ran the Chinese herbal medicine business successfully under the name of Zhong De Tang (Hall of Growing Virtues) since the Jiaqing period of the Qing dynasty. On the cultural front, they organized Baihu Shishe (White Lake Poetry Society), gathered frequently with the literati and started collecting calligraphy. In 1835 Ye Yuanfeng arranged to have his calligraphy collection engraved on 91 stone tablets for the birth of Calligraphy Models in the Collection of Huhai Ge, with 8 volumes in total. Amongst the 77 pieces of calligraphy models are Biography of Mulberry Mistletoe by Zhu Yunming (documented in Vol. 3), Seven-Character Poems in Running Script by Dong Qichang and Preface and Poem of Pavillion of Prince Teng by Wen Zhengming.
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Please note that this work has also been documented in Record of Colophons Found in Authentic Works, a manuscript by Wu Zhi of the Qing dynasty (17th-18th Century).


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Lot Essay

Expressing One’s Character & Soul: Calligraphy From Mid-Ming To Early Qing

After mid-Ming dynasty, the trend in calligraphy began to move away from the Taigeti (a type of standard script that resembles the woodblock-printed book script) and into more individualized styles, where calligraphers expressed their personalities, sentiments, and skills through running and cursive scripts. If we examine the milestones in the history of Chinese calligraphy, one could summarize that the calligraphers of the Jin favored strength, the Tang rules, the Song ideas, and the late Ming spirit.

The second change that occurred during this period was in format, as monumental hanging scrolls gradually replaced handscrolls and album leaves. This shift can be observed in the handscroll by Zhu Yunming (Lot 852) of the mid-Ming and the hanging scrolls by Wang Duo (Lots 855 and 865) and Fu Shan (Lots 856 and 866) in the late Ming and early Qing period. This dramatic change required the calligraphers to adopt new medium, scripts, compositional structures, writing techniques, and rhythms in hand movement.

Thirdly, the calligraphers of the late Ming sought to express the whimsy of the effects of dry, wet, light, and dark ink through varying the proportion of ink and water as well as changing the speed of brush movement. Such aesthetics can be observed in the works by Feng Fang (Lot 853), Chen Jiru (Lot 854), Wang Duo, and Fu Shan.

While works by these four calligraphers evince these general characteristics, they also possess highly distinctive qualities simultaneously. Feng Fang liked to put pressure in the center of a drying brush and to make his transition between brushstrokes light and smooth. In his early years, Chen Jiru emulated the rectangular shape of Su Shi’s calligraphy, but transitioned into following the lithe style of Mi Fu later in his life. Wang Duo paid homage to seal and clerical scripts through his thick lines and solid structure of the characters. Fu Shan emphasized continuous curves with minimum angularity. All four might have expressed their spirits differently, yet they shared the same underlying philosophy when crafting their art.

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