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Stone Drums with Poetry (Shigu wen)

http://www.chinese.cn 18:02, August 26, 2009 THE PALACE MUSEUM 

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Stone Drums with Poetry (Shigu wen)
Stone Drums with Poetry (Shigu wen)

Presumably dated to the Qin Kingdom (770 B.C.E.-221 B.C.E.), Spring and Autumn Period


A set of ten pieces

Stone drum: Height: 90 cm, Diameter: 60 cm

The ten stone drums are incised with four-character poems in seal script (zhuan shu) that describe activities such as fishing, hunting, and warfare. The inscriptions are known as the earliest set of words carved on stone. During the Tang dynasty (618-907), the scholars Wei Yingwu (ca. 737-793) and Han Yu (768-824) both composed Tribute to the Stone Drums (Shigu ge) to extol the outstanding calligraphy, after which the stone drums became well known. The stone drums have been dated to various periods from the eleventh century B.C.E. to the fifth century A.D. However, the content, script, and calligraphic style suggest that they were carved in the Qin Kingdom during the Spring and Autumn period. A more precise date has yet to be determined.

The stone drums were discovered at Tianxing in Shaanxi Province in the early Tang dynasty. During the Daguan reign (1107-1110) the stones were in the Northern Song capital, Kaifeng. After the Jin (1115-1234) defeated the Song dynasty, Jin troops carried the stones back to their capital, Yanjing (today's Beijing). Song dynasty artisans had filled the characters with gold, which was scraped off when the stone drums arrived at Yanjing. The inscriptions are damaged and abraded from having been moved many times. Today one stone drum has no characters at all.

The writing style of some characters are identical to a script called zhouwen, also called greater seal script, which was said to have been created by a Grand Scribe called Zhou during the reign of Qin Xuanwang (827 B.C.E.-781 B.C.E.). The sophisticated greater seal script was popular in the Spring and Autumn era and later was simplified into small seal script. The inscriptions on the stone drums are simple yet forceful. Greatly admired by Kang Youwei (1858-1927), they provided inspiration for many calligraphers who specialized in seal script.

In the collection of the Palace Museum, the rubbings of the stone drums include a set copied in the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and another previously treasured by Sun Kehong (1532-1611). Both became famous rare books.

As early as the Tang dynasty, the stone drums with poetry were included in the Yuanhe County Gazetteer (Yuanhe junxian tuzhi) by Li Jifu (758-814), and subsequently in the Collection of Antiques (Jigu lu) by Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072) of the Song dynasty, the Records of Bronze and Stele (Jinshi ji) by Zhao Mingcheng (1081-1129), and the Study on Inscriptions on Stone Drums (Shigu wenkao) by Zheng Qiao (1104-1162).


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