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Asian Art
Artist: Qian Dian, Chinese, 1741–1808

Calligraphy in Small Seal Script (Xiao Zhuanshu), with an excerpt from A Commentary to the Classic of Waterways


Handscroll: ink on paper

with mounting: 15 1/2 in. (39.37 cm)
without mounting: 14 3/4 × 256 1/2 in. (37.47 × 651.51 cm)
Collection of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972
Qian Dian loved ancient scripts, collected bronze vessels, and wrote on the origins of the language. He became a leader of the Epigraphic movement, which sought to learn the meaning of primitive inscriptions found on shells, bones, bronzes, and stones. Qian excelled at seal-carving, an important part of that movement, and became known for expressive strokes and a delicate touch. To understand the origin of writing, scholars looked to ancient styles, a vogue followed by artists who cultivated early scripts as a basis for creativity. Qian took a fresh look at Tang-dynasty stone inscriptions, characterized by a fine “iron wire” line, steeping himself in its spirit and enriching his art. His curved forms predominated over angular lines, resulting in an elegant style, and became renowned for grace—certainty without hesitation, evenness of inking, uniformity of width, and equanimity of composition, which filled space without crowding it. In a character on the upper right, now written 繼, one sees the Chinese fondness for analogies. This pictograph of eight silk worms shows their continuous unspooling of silk threads to suggest the idea of lineal succession and the meaning “continue.”
Not on view
Qing dynasty (1644–1911)

H. Christopher Luce, New York; gifted in 2017 to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018,” https://artgallery.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/bulletin/Pub-Bull-acquisitions-2018.pdf (accessed December 1, 2018).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.