Under the Jin dynasty in the fourth century CE, Wang Xizhi equals Zhong and tries to match Zhang. His son Wang Xianzhi brings the cursive script to the rank of a major art. The gesture of the artist becomes much more important than the text. By attempting to make the most exact copy, scholars retrieve not only the gesture but also the emotion of the former artist.
No original by Wang Xizhi survives. An ancient but undated copy 24.7 x 13.9 cm of one of his calligraphies was sold for RMB 308M including premium by China Guardian in November 2010.
The Qianlong emperor brings together the whole cultural heritage of his predecessors. A special hall in the palace is dedicated to the preservation of three treasures of ancient calligraphy. Copies are made for dissemination and also for exercise, including by the emperor himself who records his appreciation on colophons and affixes his seal.
Qianlong knows that paper is incompatible with an eternal preservation. The albums are thus not enough. He has the most prestigious calligraphies incised in jade screens. Unlike other craftsmen in jade or porcelain, jade engravers sometimes sign their art, which shows how important their work was to the emperor.
The calligraphy on jade respects the accuracy of the line of the original document and also the hollows and bumps from overlapping characters and seals, which is a technical feat when considering that jade can only get a subtractive carving. The incisions are filled with a compressed gold powder.
On October 3 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a screen 31 x 30 cm and 1.7 cm thick, lot 3203 estimated HK $ 40M. The celadon jade is deliberately sprinkled with white spots imitating the snow.
It is engraved and gilded on both sides. The front side reproduces one of the three treasures, which is also the only authenticated autograph by Wang Xianzhi, 22 characters in cursive script. The imperial colophon and the seals are also reproduced, including a date matching 1746 CE.
The other side is devoted to 250 characters in thirteen lines which are the only remains of a poem from the early third century CE. It is a copy of a non datable jade-like plaque engraved after a calligraphy by the same artist Wang Xianzhi. The lost original had been copied under the Song.