July 31, 2012

Book of Hours

The Book of Hours was a prayer book for the laity that developed in late medieval Europe and that was used for private devotion. These works were often personalized for individual patrons and illuminated with miniature paintings depicting the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and individual saints. The text included a calendar of liturgical feast days and a series of prayers to be recited eight times a day, according to established practice. By the early Renaissance period the popularity of the Book of Hours demonstrated the growing interest of the laity in speaking directly with God and the saints, rather than exclusively through the church and the ordained clergy. This manuscript Book of Hours from early 16th century France was written on vellum skin and includes 16 large and 26 small miniature paintings highlighted in gold and painted with rich primary colors. It is embellished with headings and paragraph marks in blue and red ink, and is written in delicate Roman letters of the highest quality. Both the text and the illuminations are ascribed to the Parisian workshop of Geoffroy Tory.

Annals of the Temple of Marquis Xiao in Taiyangzhou

This work was compiled by Guo Zizhang (1543–1618) and edited and printed by Gan Yinqiu. After Guo received his jin shi degree in 1571, he held various posts, including those of minister of the Bureau of War, censor-in-chief, and the junior guardian of the heir apparent. Guo also had extensive knowledge of history, military strategy, literature, and medicine and was the author of a number of local histories. Shown here is the only extant copy of this work, issued in the second year of the Tianqi reign (1622). It has seven juan, in two parts, in one volume, and it contains many records on Xiao Hou (Marquis Xiao), including Xiao hou miao tu (Illustrated temple of Xiao Hou), Xiao hou zhuan (Biography of Xiao Hou), and a number of imperial eulogies, records, biographies, notices, and verses. An illustration shows Marquis Xiao with his torch-like eyes sitting in the center, with six awe-inspiring guards standing on either side. According to the legends, Xiao Hou (circa 1324–1405), a native of Taiyangzhou, whose original name was Xiao Tianren, became a water god after death, as had his father and grandfather. Xiao’s divine exploits are recorded here. It was said that in 1419 he appeared as the sea god to rescue sailors in distress during their voyage to the western seas—a reference to one of the voyages of Zheng He (1371–1433) who led fleets to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa in 1405–33. The Ming emperor, Yongle (reigned 1403–24), later bestowed on Xiao the honorific title of Ying you hou (Brave Ocean Protector). Xiao Hou was worshipped by sea merchants and couriers over the centuries. A number of Marquis Xiao temples, built or renovated up to the 1920s, commemorated three generations of the Xiao family. This work documents the temple in Taiyangzhou Zhen, Xin’gan Xian, Jiangxi Province, and it provides much information on Chinese folk religion there. The preface, dated 1622, was written by Zhu Shishou, also a native of Jiangxi and a member of the Donglin movement, a group of Chinese scholars and officials in the late Ming dynasty who attempted to combat the moral laxity and intellectual weakness they felt was undermining public life. The woodblock printing is of high, refined quality.

Selected Anecdotes about Su Shi and Mi Fu

This book is a collection of anecdotes about two great Song masters of poetry, painting, and calligraphy, Su Shi (1037–1101) and Mi Fu (1051–1107). It was compiled by Guo Hua, about whom little is known, reviewed by Xu Richang, and edited by Hu Zhengyan (1580–1671), a painter, calligrapher, and seal carver. Hu Zhengyan published the first Chinese color woodblock print in his house, the famed Shi zhu zhai (Ten Bamboo Studio), where this work also was printed. Su Shi, also called Su Dongpo, gained even  greater popularity after death, as people built shrines in his honor and sought to collect his works, portraits, and stone inscriptions about his many travels. Mi Fu, also called Nangong, was known for painting misty landscapes using large wet ink dots applied with a flat brush, was a noted eccentric, and was often called “Madman Mi” for his manners and obsessions. Mi Fu and Su Shi formed a circle of brilliant artists who emphasized personal expression over mere technical excellence. The sources of the anecdotes in this work are not given, so it is difficult to determine their authenticity. The book consists of six juan, in four volumes, with four juan on Su Shi, entitled Dongpo tan shi guang (Selected anecdotes of Dongpo), and two juan on Mi Fu, entitled Nangong tan shi guang (Selected anecdotes of Nangong). The catalog Si ku quan shu cun mu (Catalog of books not included in the Siku Collection) lists only one volume on Su Shi and one volume on Mi Fu, dated 1611. This copy is an enlarged but undated edition, printed probably during the Tianqi reign (1621–27). On its cover is the seal of Ten Bamboo Studio, the publishing house. There are 16 prefatory essays, all by friends of the compiler, who was from Xuancheng County. Among the authors are He Weiran, Wu Congxian, and Mei Shishu and Mei Shiqi, who were also from Xuancheng. One preface, written by Zhang Yishen, describes the occasion when he met the compiler at the Ten Bamboo Studio, and thought of him as “an eloquent, quick-witted and amazing man, and very much in tune with Su and Mi.” The work bears a rectangular-shaped seal impression that reads: Qing fen tang shu hua (Records of paintings and calligraphy at the Qingfen Hall). The engraving and printing are exquisite and the text is clear.

Annotated Book of Alchemy by Tao Zhi

Tao gong huan jin shu (Annotated book of alchemy) is an important work on alchemy, based on an original text by Tao Zhi, a Daoist priest of the ninth century. Shown here is a Ming edition of the Jiajing period (1522–66), in one juan, one volume, annotated by Shao Fu, a native of Wulin. Shao Fu was also referred to as Qiwan in one of his other works, Jingyang han shi ji (Stone inscriptions of Jingyang). He studied Daoist theory, and his commentaries reflect his knowledge on the subject. The original work by Tao Zhi had three essays, including one entitled Dao zang (Daoist canon). Chinese alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Daoism, centers on the practice of nurturing the body–spirit connection. Besides focusing on the purification of the spirit and the body, the practitioners believed in summoning benevolent spirits and expelling demons. They hoped to gain immortality through Qi practices (movement of vital forces) or use of various alchemical elixirs. The work includes two prefaces, one by Tao Zhi, the original author, and the other by Shao Fu, the annotator.

Collected Essays on Timber-Felling in the Western Region

This Ming dynasty work in two juan, in one volume, was printed in black and blue inks during the Jiajing reign (1522–66). It is the only known copy. The author was Gong Hui, who received his jin shi degree in 1523 and then held various official posts. As vice president of the Bureau of Public Works, he supervised the water conservancy work at the Huai River. When he was military governor-general in south Jiangxi, he suppressed the powerful bandits operating in the region. He was dispatched to Sichuan to supervise the felling of timber for building the Palace of Benevolence and Longevity in the Forbidden City, in Beijing. This book, with its 15 illustrations and descriptions of the methods and tools used in timber cutting, is a rare source for studying the techniques and craftsmanship of its time. Also included are several poems and essays and a memorial to the emperor describing the hardships endured in transporting timber to the capital. As a result of Gong Hui’s memorial, the emperor discontinued the tree-felling project. The work also includes an essay entitled Shuo mu (Discourse on trees) by Zeng Yu (1480–1558), and a postscript, written by Jia Ding, a fellow official. On the first page of the book is a large square seal impression of the imperial Hanlin Academy in Chinese and Manchu scripts, an indication that it was a master copy for the compilation of Si ku quan shu (The complete collection of the four treasuries). It was originally in the collection of Tian yi ge (The Tianyi Pavilion Library), but after the completion of the Siku Collection the book apparently was not returned. The seal impression of Tian yi ge later was cut out and the book was taken out of the imperial academy and sold.

Reading Notes Jotted down at the Studio

This work is a collection of essays with commentaries compiled by Chen Zi (1683–1759), a famed poet and calligrapher during the Kangxi reign. Chen Zi was also the author of Jing xin ji shi chao (Jing Xin Collection of Poems by Chen Zi), a manuscript volume of poetry in the Chinese rare book collections of the Library of Congress. He and his contemporary Li Kai (1686–1755) were considered the two best poets of the time, with Chen in the south and Li in the north. This collection, in two volumes, consists of eight essays, each having a distinctive title and given a cyclical date. The essays are of different lengths, the shortest having only two leaves and the longest 19 leaves. They are chiefly Chen’s notes and commentaries on some of the works he read, which reflect his views and his philosophical, religious, and literary ideas. He expounded on his patriotism and his admiration for Zhu Xi, the leading Song dynasty figure of the School of Principle (a branch of Neo-Confucian theory) and the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian. Some of Chen’s comments were sarcastic and intended to ridicule. He was prolific but his works were not widely circulated in his lifetime. This may have been due to the miscellaneous nature of his works, but it is also possible that some of the expressions he used could have hindered publication amid the prevailing literary inquisition of the early Qing dynasty. This work was not published and thus escaped censorship. It is the only extant copy.