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Asian Art
Calligrapher: Tan Chuduan, Chinese, 1123–1185

Rubbing from a Stone Stele in Running Cursive Script, with a Tortoise and a Snake

20th century

Rubbing: ink on paper, framed

framed: 49 5/8 × 25 3/4 in. (126.05 × 65.41 cm)
unframed: 46 1/2 × 22 1/4 in. (118.11 × 56.52 cm)
Collection of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972
The Chinese invented ink, paper, and printing, and now some believe ink rubbings should be added, as this was the first method to copy, preserve, and disseminate information. After the Qin emperor ordered the burning of books in 213 B.C.E., scholars engraved the classics into stone, demonstrating their value to the study of history, philosophy, language, and art. When originals are damaged or lost, fragile paper preserves inscriptions. Rubbings enabled the field of epigraphy (jinshixue, 金石学) to trace the evolution of writing over time and serve as models to be copied. Accurate to the finest touch, rubbings show ink fading away as the brush is pulled, known as “flying white” (feibai, 飛白). The head, carapace, feet, and tail of the tortoise (龜) can be seen, as can the snake (蛇), its head alert and tail coiled. Every path of the brush is easy to discern, no two lines muddled together. The author, Tan Chuduan, became a Daoist monk and leader of the School of Complete Perfection, focusing on self-betterment through the belief in “action through non-action” (wuwei, 無為). A master of calligraphy, he loved writing these characters every day.
Not on view
Republican to People’s Republic of China period (1912–present)

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.