Huang Tingjian (Chinese, 1045–1105), Biographies of Lian Po and Lin Xiangru, 北宋 黃庭堅 草書廉頗藺相如傳 卷, ca. 1095, Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). Handscroll; ink on paper. Image: 13 1/4 in. × 60 ft. 4 1/2 in. (33.7 × 1840.2 cm) Overall with mounting: 13 1/2 in. × 71 ft. 5 5/8 in. (34.3 × 2178.4 cm). Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.363.4 © 2000–2016 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Poet, calligrapher, and Chan (Zen) Buddhist adept, Huang Tingjian believed that calligraphy should be spontaneous and self-expressive—“a picture of the mind.” Containing nearly twelve hundred characters, this handscroll is a masterpiece of cursive-script writing. It transcribes an account of a rivalry between two officials: Lian Po, a distinguished general; and Lin Xiangru, a skilled strategist. Huang’s transcription ends abruptly with Lin’s words: “When two tigers fight, one must perish. I behave as I do because I put our country’s fate before private feuds.” Read in the context of Song political infighting, Huang’s transcription becomes a powerful indictment of the partisanship that led to his own banishment in 1094.
This work is exhibited in the "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection" exhibition, on view through October 11th, 2016.