Peonies in a bronze vessel

Wu Changshuo is known as one of the major figures in the Shanghai School of artists, renowned for their modernization of painting style in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His career began however with the study of ancient stone and bronze inscriptions, seal carvings, and calligraphy in archaic scripts. This gave his own calligraphy a boldness that is also discernible in his painting brushwork. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 there were fewer opportunities to make a living from the pursuits associated with a classical education, and his painting repertoire expanded to include bamboo and bird and flower painting, and occasionally figures and landscapes.

The bronze vessel in this painting is a ding ritual vessel of the mid-Zhou dynasty (c. 1050-221 BC), depicted together with its inscription. Bronzes were first collected in the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279), mainly for the historical importance of their inscriptions. The practice was revived in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), and a new way of representing the vessels was developed.

Catalogues printed between AD 1100 and 1800 illustrated bronzes in line only. In 1796 the first three-dimensional representation was published, following a version of the rubbing technique that had long been used for reproducing inscriptions. To achieve the full-figured rubbing (quanxing ta) several separate rubbings were taken from different parts of the vessel. These were then mounted together to create a single image.


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