Saturday, April 30, 2011

Scroll deciphered (mostly)

For our wedding, we received a beautiful antique-looking scroll (right) from a good family friend. The scroll is on yellowed paper, and shows a condor (eagle? vulture?) sitting on a tree branch and looking to the side with some calligraphy on the right side. There was not too much information about it, and we finally hung it up in the stairwell so I decided to do some research.

I could make out most of the first line of the poem, so I went and googled it. Turns out the poem was written by a Yuan Dynasty poet, Chen Ruzhi (陈汝秩 Chén Rúzhì), who died in 1385. There is little information on this guy besides that he was a poet and calligrapher and painter. His brother, Chen Ruyan (陈汝言, Chén Rúyán​) may have been more successful since there is one of his landscape paintings in the Cleveland Museum of Art. All of the cool Chinese kids get their paintings in there after all. After some Googlage, I found out the poem says:


(wǎn fēng chuī yǔ guò lín lú
shì yè piāo hóng shǒu zì shū
wú xiàn xiāo xiāo jiāng hǎi yì
yī zūn xiāng duì yì lú yú)

I am probably missing a lot of nuances here, but for what its worth, my translation is:

"The evening wind blows rain through the forest hut
Persimmon leaves blow red as my hand writes calligraphy
The limitless sounds convey the meanings of the rivers and seas
A jug of wine to face recollections of perch."

Ruzhi lived at the end of the Yuan and beginning of the Ming dynasties, in the 14th century. I can only wonder if "recollections of perch" is some kind of pun or political allegory, because otherwise it is slightly strange. Of course in the grand tradition of writing poetry, he was most likely hammered (hence the "jug of wine"). Personally I like the line, because I do have fond memories of fishing with my brothers and dad at Lake Champlain and catching perch - and pickerel and pike.

It is not clear when he wrote the poem, but his brother Ruyan was killed by imperial forces at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty after having served with the famous rebel leader Zhang Shicheng (张士诚 Zhāng Shìchéng). Zhang rose up against the Mongols of the Yuan, but was not successful enough to start his own dynasty and was defeated by the dude (Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 Zhū​ Yuán​zhāng) who ultimately started the Ming Dynasty in 1368.​ So perhaps the perch reference has something to do with that. Unknown.

ANYWAY, that is not to suggest that this scroll was painted or written in the 1300s, but the poem is from then. There is a name at the end of the poem, but I can't read it so I don't have a good way to find out much more.... for now. Stay tuned! Or if you have an idea let me know. Here is a closeup, the 2 characters above the red seals. Maybe it is a year designation?

UPDATE: I believe the first character is (kuí) meaning sunflower, also a rare surname. According to Baidu, people with the Chinese surname Kui account for 0.005% of the population, or about 60,000 people, mostly in Henan Province. That narrows it down a little!

葵 is also "Aoi," a Japanese name. Hmm.

ANOTHER UPDATE: OK, I think I got it, although it does not answer the real question of who painted this and when. I think the characters say Kuitang (葵塘 kuítáng), which is a small town in either Guangdong Province, or there is also one in Guangxi Autonomous Region, could be either one.


Susan Moger said...

Was this from Boo?

Benjamin said...

No, it was from Hwa-Soon and Michael! I wondered if the painting was Korean in origin, altho the poem obviously is Chinese. But back in the day, everyone (Korean, Japan, China) used Chinese chars. It was like Latin I think.