Lot 2104
  • 2104


15,000,000 - 25,000,000 HKD
90,260,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Zhang Zhao


handscroll, ink on gold-flecked paper with a silk brocade wrapper, signed Zhang Zhao with three seals of the artist, an Imperial frontispiece by the Qianlong Emperor entitled Gui ci shen bi ('A Magnificent Verse Written with a Divine Brush'), dated the gengxu year corresponding to 1790, with 33 seals of the Qianlong Emperor, and one seal by the Xuantong Emperor


Sotheby's New York, 5th December 1985, lot 124.


Shiqu baoji xubian ('Sequel to The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal [Pavilion]), Qing Dynasty, Qianlong period, pp. 691-692.
Gugong yi shi shuji shuhua mulu zhi yi ('An Index of Books, Paintings and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City', Part I), reprint, Beijing, National Palace Museum, 1946, p. 29.
Chen Rentao, et al., Gugong yi shi shuhua mu jiaozhu ('Notes on Paintings and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City'), Hong Kong, Tong Ying Company, May 1956, p. 59.

Catalogue Note

The 37 seals on the handscroll are:

1. Dian xue qin zheng ('To Study Classics and be Diligent in Governing', see p. 49)
2. Ba zheng mao nian zhibao ('Treasure of the Eighty-year old who concerns himself with the Eight Signs', see p. 48 upper seal)
3. Zi qiang bu xi ('Self-strengthening Never Ceases', see p. 48 lower seal)
4. Jian tian xin
5. Miao yan xie qing kuai
6. Wufu wudai tang guxi tianzi bao ('A Family of Five Generations Enjoying Five Blessings, The Longevity of Seventy Years')
7. Ba zheng mao nian zhibao
8. Qianqing Gong bao ('Treasure of the Mansion of Heavenly Purity')
9. Shui yue liang cheng ming
10. Chui lou
11. Shi Ze Tang ('Studio of Eternal Blessing' of the artist)
12. Shiqu baoji ('Precious Catalogue of Treasures within the Moat')
13. Shiqu dingjian
14. Baoji zhongbian
15. Guxi tianzi
16. Qianlong yulan zhibao
17. Qianqing Gong jiancang bao
18. Han wei jing ji
19. Ji shi duo suo xin
20. Bao tai
21. Bi hua chun yu
22. Jing zhong guan zaohua
23. Shu shi yan qiu zun guxun
24. Ji xi you yuxiang
25. Xue jing qiangu
26. Qianlong jianshang
27. Xuantong yulan zhibao ('Appreciation of His Majesty Xuantong')
28. Ba zheng mao nian zhibao
29. Zhang Zhao si yin ('Private Seal of Zhang Zhao')
30. Detian ('Blessed by the Heaven', the studio name hao of the artist)
31. Sanxi Tang jingjian xi
32. Yi zi sun
33. Tiandi wei shi
34. Xintian zhuren ('The Ruler Who Believes in Heaven')
35. Tian'en baxun zhibao ('Treasure of the Emperor at Eighty Thanks to Heaven's Blessing')
36. Taishang huangdi zhibao ('Treasure of the Emperor Emeritus')
37. Guan shu wei le



Zhang Zhao (1691–1745), whose courtesy zi name was Detian and sobriquets hao were Jingnan and Tianping Jushi (Gentleman of Tianping), came from the Lou District in Songjiang Prefecture (part of present-day Shanghai). In 1709 he became a  Jinshi (Presented Scholar) after passing the Civil Service examination and was appointed History Reviewer at the Southern Study in the Forbidden City. In 1733 he was appointed Chief Censor of the Left and was promoted to Minister of Justice. Two years later he served as Grand Minister for Subduing the Southwest, but was imprisoned due to his failure to subdue the region. Pardoned in 1735 (the first year of the Qianlong emperor's reign), he served in the Imperial Printing Office housed in the Hall of Military Glory. He later became an Academician of the Grand Secretariat, concurrently serving in the Southern Study. In 1742 he was reappointed as Minister of Justice and also served in the Inner Court. In the lunar first month of 1745 he died while rushing home for his father's funeral. In death he was given the honorary titles Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent and Minister of Personnel, and was bestowed the posthumous title of Wenmin (Erudite).

Gifted and learned, Zhang Zhao was thoroughly versed in Buddhist scripture and an expert in musical theory. Alongside Yunlu Prince of Zhuang, he researched the theory behind Lülü zhengyi (Rectification of the Twelve Pitches). He participated in the editing of  the Da Qing yitong zhi (Great Qing Gazetteer),  and was the author of Tianpingzhai shuhua tiba (Zhang Zhao's Inscriptions for Calligraphy and Painting) and Detian jushi ji (An Anthology of Zhang Zhao's Works). He also wrote musical pieces for performance at the Imperial Inner Court, including Yueling chengying (Performances for the Season), Faguan yazou (Court Music for Royal Ceremonies), Jiujiu da qing (Celebrations of Birthdays of the Royal Family) and Quanshan jinke (Golden Roles for Promoting Virtue) in ten acts, as well as Sheng ping bao fa (Ascendant Peace, Precious Raft) in ten acts. Zhang also excelled in painting, whether it was roughly drawing flowers or finely executing stamens and pistils. The second series of the catalogue Shiqu baoji (Precious Collection of the Stone Canal [Pavilion]) contains his eight-leaf album Mo mei (Plum Blossoms Done in Ink, 1723) and his twelve-leaf album Meihua huasha (Plum-Blossom Fan Paintings, 1724). These were then given to the Qianlong Emperor by Zhang Zhao's grandson Zhang Jian and bear the inscriptions of the emperor and his court officials. Early in 1744 (the twelfth lunar month of the ninth year of Qianlong's reign) Zhang Zhao, together with Liang Shizheng, Li Zongwan, and Zhang Ruoai, began compiling the first edition of Midian zhulin (Beaded Grove of the Secret Hall), which they completed in the fifth lunar month of 1744. This team, along with five additional compilers, including Zhuang Yougong, Qiu Yuexiu, and Dong Bangda, also began compiling the Shiqu baoji in the second lunar month of 1744, but when they completed the work in tenth lunar month of 1745, Zhang Zhao had already past away.

Zhang Zhao studied calligraphy from the time he was a young adult under his uncle, Wang Hongxu, Chief Censor of the Left in the Kangxi court. He began by imitating the style of Dong Qichang (1555–1636) and later followed the styles of Yan Zhenqing (709–785), Mi Fu (1051–1107), and Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). Though the classic style of the regular script (guangeti) dominated the culture at the time, Zhang Zhao was able to break free of convention adopting the characteristics of past masters, adding a sense of variety, yet remaining straightforward in his style. His regular script was elegant, properly ordered, and well rounded, while his running script was continuous and flowing, with traces of the influence of Dong Qichang and Mi Fu. The Qianlong Emperor greatly appreciated Zhang's calligraphy and often asked the scholar to write for him. In the inscription of Yuzhi ji Zhang Zhao chunlianzi cheng chuntiezi ci shiqi shou (Imperial Anthology of Seventeen of Zhang Zhao's Spring Festival Couplets for Spring Hanging Scrolls), the emperor wrote, "I have always liked Zhang Zhao's calligraphy. Much of the large-character calligraphy on palace screens and walls were written by him at my request. Whenever I see his work, I have it collected. Every new year, when we replace the old with new works, the servants would present me with the post-and-lintel spring-festival couplets that he wrote and asked if they could be destroyed. I disallowed it. Though the silk is damaged, the calligraphy still retains it character. If we were to throw it away because it is a little musty or insect-damaged, this would be like burning a fine musical instrument or eating a beautiful crane." The emperor was seldom as enthralled with calligraphy as he was with every jot of Zhang Zhao's works. After Zhang's death, the emperor's fondness for his calligraphy continued to grow. Thirty years after his death, the emperor wrote a poem that reads, "His calligraphy has the robustness of Mi Fu's, but not its brevity. It also has the orderliness of Dong Qichang's, but not its weakness. Of all Chinese calligraphers, past and present, is there anyone who is his equal? Even now when I view his work, it is as fresh as if it were written yesterday. The energy is fully concentrated. This is not something that one can learned." Here the emperor discusses his calligraphy and thinks of the man; one can sense the profound emotional feeling involved. The second series of both Shiqu baoji and Midian zhulin, which were compiled in two years and published in the fifth lunar month of 1793, contain descriptions of the calligraphy and paintings that the Palace Treasury obtained between 1745 and 1791. Included are a vast number, 182, of Zhang Zhao's calligraphy works and plum-blossom paintings from three albums. In addition to poems by the emperor, there are also studies of the calligraphy of Wang Xizhi (Wang Youjun, 303–361), Yan Zhenqing, Liu Gongquan (778–865), Ouyang Xun (557–641), Su Shi (1037–1101), Huang Tingjian (1045–1105), Mi Fu, Zhao Mengfu, Dong Qichang. Thus one can see how diligently Zhang Zhao applied himself to his art. Zhang Zhao had far more entries in the Shiqu baoji than any other calligrapher of the Qing period (1644–1911). The Qianlong Emperor commanded officials of the Inner Court to gather Zhang Zhao's calligraphy of the emperor's poems and of his writings of masters of the past and reproduce them as woodblock prints. The result was Tianpingzhai fatie (The Zhang Zhao Copybook), in ten volumes.

Ten stone granite sculptures in the shape of drums, were found early in the Tang period (618–907) in Sanchouyuan, Tianxing (present-day Fengxiang), in Shaanxi Province. The eminent Tang writer Han Yu (768–824) made these stone drums well known through his poem "Shigu ge" (Song of the Stone Drums) which was carved on the stone drums. Each drum contained an ancient poem of four-character lines recording a hunt conducted by Duke Wen of Qin (765–714 bce) between the Qian and Wei rivers. Hence, these stone drums are also called "Memorials on Hunting" (Liejie). This is the earliest example of stone-engraved writing. The bodies of these stone drums are sturdy and impressive, and the calligraphy is steady and vigorous, giving these stone drums a classic simplicity and an awe-inspiring impression. The style of the characters forms a link between the bronze script, which appears on ancient bronzes of the Zhou period (11th cent.–256 bce), and the small seal script, which was the standardized script of the Qin dynasty (221–206 bce). Thus these stone drums play an important role in the history of calligraphy. In addition, they served as an important model for calligraphers throughout the ages and had a great influence on epigraphy during the Qing period.

The present scroll is Zhang Zhao's undated calligraphy of Han Yu's "Shigu ge." Judging from the fact that the entry for this work appears in the second series of the Shiqu baoji, and not the first, we can infer that Zhang Zhao completed it rather late in his career. The whole scroll is 56 centimeters tall and over 12 meters in length. At the front of the scroll is a frontispiece that the Qianlong Emperor wrote in midspring of 1790 on bright yellow Palace Storehouse paper with a pattern of dragons and clouds. In the frontispiece  he praised Han Yu's poetry as a rare gem and Zhang Zhao's calligraphy as divinely inspired. He closed by saying, "May these two classics, Han Yu's poetry and Zhang Zhao's calligraphy, enjoy a long life together," affirming that Zhang Zhao's calligraphy, like Han Yu's poetry, was worthy of transmitting through the ages. Zhang Zhao wrote 528 characters of Han Yu's "Shigu ge,", on waxed paper flecked with gold. Though the emperor called his script the cursive script (caoshu), it is more accurately described as the running script (xingshu). The entire work, done in one session, is characterized by ink that is a deep, rich glossy black, a style that follows Yan Zhenqing.  The brush execution is powerful and unrestrained yet balanced, and well composed. Amid the strokes of the characters one can perceive inklings of Mi Fu's style. It is not farfetched to say that this work is an excellent example of Zhang Zhao's running script style. The present scroll was originally kept in the Qianqing Palace in the Forbidden City. It bears the impressions of 33 of the Qianlong Emperor's collector seals. In 1922 the deposed Emperor Puyi awarded the scroll to his younger brother Pujie, who removed it from the Forbidden City. The end of the scroll has a red seal impression that reads, "Treasure viewed by the Xuantong Emperor [Puyi]." We can infer that this seal impression was perhaps added when Puyi inspected the work before giving it to his brother. From July to December of that year Puyi stole more than 200 books from the Song (960–1279), Yuan (1279–1368), and Ming (1368–1644) periods and over 1,000 paintings and works of calligraphy from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing periods from the palace by transferring them to Pujie. Among his pilferings were 10 calligraphy works by Zhang Zhao, including the present work. As of 1956, when Chen Rentao published Gugong yi shi shuhua mu jiaozhu (Notes on Paintings and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City), these 10 works were still unaccounted for. Then the work resurfaced when Sotheby's New York sold it at auction in 1985. It was a stroke of luck that after more than sixty years astray, this scroll still retained its original palace mount and that only the jade fastener was lost.

The Qianlong court had a great interest in reviving the past. In 1790 the Qianlong Emperor ordered that the extant text of the stone drums (all 310 characters) be gathered, and that the ten stone-drum poems be re-carved onto newly produced stone drums to replace the lost original drums. On the 15th of the first lunar month, he wrote "Ji shigu suoyou wen cheng shi zhang zhi gu chongke xu" (Introduction to the Gathering of the Ten Stone Drum Poems, the Remaking of the Stone Drums, and the Re-inscribing) which he  had inscribed on a stone stele. Later in the second lunar month, he inspected the Zhang Zhao scroll of the "Stone Drum Song," composed an afterword for it, and had the calligraphy also reproduced on a stele. These two stelae and the stone drums reproduced by emperor can all be found outside the Dacheng Gate of the Confucian Temple in Beijing.

Gugong yi shi shuji shuhua mulu zhi yi (An Index of Books, Paintings, and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City) (Beijing: Guoli Gugong Bowuyuan, 1946), p. 29.

Chen Rentao, Gugong yi shi shuhua mu jiaozhu (Notes on Paintings and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City) (Hong Kong: Tongying Gongsi, 1956), p. 59.