Great Painter and Calligrapher: Zhao Mengfu
Chinese calligraphy underwent great developments in the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1367). Zhao Mengfu and Xian Yushu, who advocated innovations on the basis of learning from the predecessors, put an end to the decadent calligraphy style since the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and created new calligraphy style of the Yuan Dynasty. In the Yuan Dynasty the regular script and the cursive hand made prominent achievements, while the seal character, official script and other styles of calligraphy also were developed to some degree.
Among the calligraphy theory books, Yanji belongs to a general survey; Explore the Essence of Calligraphy by Su Lin, Addendum to Shujing by Lu Zong and Fashukao by Sheng Ximing belong to a series; and Knacks for Members of the Imperial Academy by Chen Duo, Xue"an Ziyao, Eight Skills of Xue"an Yongzi and other works by Shi Puguang focused on calligraphy skills. In addition, many calligraphy theories are included in prefaces and postscripts of calligraphic works by Zhao Mengfu, Xian Yushu, Deng Wenyuan, Yu Ji, Ke Jiusi and other calligraphers.
Zhao Menfu (1254-1322) was a descendent of a Song (960-1279) imperial family. Zhao, who was gifted with a very retentive memory, took office as the Sihucanjun of Zhenzhou when he was only 14 years old. After the downfall of the Southern Song Dynasty Zhao stepped down from the political stage and devoted himself to reading, and later served the Mongol-established Yuan Empire. Zhao was an honest and upright official who always spoke directlyand never cringed, even though he once was an official of the Song Dynasty. A well-learned scholar, Zhao"s calligraphy works, paintings, poems and prose were also of a high artistic level, with representative works such as The Annotation of the Collection of Ancient Texts, Qinyuan and Yueyuan. The emperor of the Yuan once comparedhim with Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Su Shi of the Song Dynasty.
Zhao was adept in many styles of calligraphy, such as seal character, official script, running script and the cursive hand, and he also created his own style, Zhaoti. Zhao exerted a significant influence on the calligraphy circle of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1644-1911). Xian Yushu, who was an expert in regular script, running script and cursive hand, also developed his own style characterized by magnificent strokes. Zhao, Xian, as well as Deng Wenyuan, were regarded as the Three Great Calligraphers of the Yuan Dynasty.