‹ Past Exhibitions

77 Dances: Japanese Calligraphy by Poets, Monks, and Scholars, 1568-1868

In East Asia, calligraphy has been considered the highest of all forms of art for more than fifteen centuries. Represented in this exhibition are seventy-seven hanging scrolls, fan paintings, albums, and poem cards that demonstrate the flowering of the art of writing during Japan’s Momoyama and Edo periods (1568–1868) when the civilization was ruled by powerful shoguns, the arts flourished, and the interest in calligraphy was revitalized.

Each of these artworks communicates the traditional belief that freedom of the brush is a true revelation of one’s personality and a means of individual expression. Although these scripts and styles may be viewed in historical and cultural contexts, the primary focus here revolves around an understanding and enjoyment of the works as exquisite dances of line and form in space.

Fundamentals
     East Asian calligraphy is normally written from top to bottom in columns from right to left. Texts begin at the top right, move down the column, and then return up to the top of the second column.
     Each character is composed of a specific number of strokes in a specified order. In general, individual characters are written from the left side to the right, and from top to bottom, in special rhythmic patterns developed for the various script forms.
     There are basically six forms of script used in Japanese calligraphy. The first five came from China, in which each character indicates an entire word, while the sixth is specifically Japanese as a syllabary.

Technique
     Sumi ink dates back to China’s Han period (221 BCE to CE 220) and is made of animal glue combined with soot collected from the burning of either pine wood or vegetable oils. After mixing and kneading the ingredients, the ink is pressed into a mold to form a stick or cake.
     The calligrapher grinds the stick with water into an ink stone, then dips a special brush made of bamboo and animal hair into the fresh ink to begin painting or writing on paper. Once the work is complete, the calligrapher adds seals in red ink, which usually serve the function of a signature. Typically there is a seal at the beginning of a writing and two at the end.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was curated by Stephen Addiss, Tucker-Boatwright Professor in the Humanities-Art and Professor of Art History, University of Richmond. The exhibition and publication are made possible in part with the generous support of The Blakemore Foundation, The Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies, with additional funding from the University’s Cultural Affairs Committee and the Louis S. Booth Arts Fund.