Grace and resilience

Calligraphy of consolation and endurance

A striking number of fine works of calligraphy have been made by writers in their seventies and eighties. Such works frequently evince an almost weightless quality of force, such is the apparent ease of the brush. The drama and flourish of youth is past, while poise and gestures remain, recalling a lifetime's pursuit of careful constructions.

In this excerpt from an album by DONG Qichang 董其昌 (1555-1636), the retired scholar and connoisseur, now 80, measures his script with scrupulous care. A small, intimate work undertaken on soft paper emphasizing a gentle touch. The characters are relatively widely spaced, establishing an overall composition that it is open and clear, like the space of a domestic garden. The characters are written without haste, and flow without pause or break. The ink is less than completely black, with subtle colours of grey. The brush goes fairly dry before it is recharged, resulting in a pulsing rhythm and characters that are faint and wispy, like the hollow skeletons of dried moths.

Force spent and tempered, Dong's script is an image of a clear and untroubled consciousness. In tone and manner there is an unspoken acceptance of retirement and age.



  Dong Qichang 董其昌 (1555-1636)
The Song of Leshou Hall, 1635
Album of 16 leaves, ink on paper
Private collection