Passage from the Memorial Stele for Qiao Min in clerical script

Artist: Zhao Zhichen 趙之琛 (1781-1852)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, early to mid-19th century
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
H x W (image): 108.8 x 20 cm (42 13/16 x 7 7/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

China, clerical script, copy, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection

To 1997
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (born 1929), New York City, to 1997

From 1997
Freer Gallery of Art, given by Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in 1997 [1]


[1] The total gift from the Ellsworth collection consists of nearly three-hundred objects (F1997.42-.85 and F1998.83-294). All Chinese calligraphy in the proposed gift were published in Mr. Ellsworth's Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950 vol. 3 (New York: Random House, 1986) (see Curatorial Note 2, Joseph Chang and Stephen D. Allee, May 19, 1998, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


On reviewing the times and taking stock of his age, the gentleman withdrew himself and rejected power, preserving his tranquility and minimizing his affairs. He covered his light and concealed his jade to keep himself from regretting error, and was reluctant to jostle for rank and position with the common herd.

A native of Qiantang (modern Hangzhou) in Zhejiang province, Zhao Zhichen is best known as a versatile and prolific seal carver, and is numbered among the Eight Masters of Xiling. As a calligrapher, Zhao was proficient in all script types, but he is particularly admired for his calligraphy in clerical script, as seen in this scroll, which he studied largely through rubbings of the carved texts on ancient stone monuments. In writing this passage on paper with brush and ink, Zhao was not seeking to reproduce the inert formal qualities of an inscription chiseled in stone, but to creatively reinterpret the inherent particularities of Han dynasty clerical script by means of a different artistic medium. The result is a direct expression of Zhao's personal aesthetic that is also very much in accord with the prevailing antiquarian tastes of his era, exhibiting a deliberate awkwardness which is both consciously archaic and decidedly contemporary at the same time.

The subject of this text, Qiao Min (129-185), was a low-ranking eunuch who served at the imperial court of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220). In 187, Qiao's relatives had a memorial stele carved and erected for him, which went unremarked by history until almost nine hundred years later, when scholars first recorded and made rubbings of it. The original stone was subsequently lost and no rubbings directly from it are extant today, but the text was re-cut at some point and new rubbings were produced. In the late eighteenth century, one undated rubbing of this re-cut text circulated among scholars and epigraphers and an outline copy was published, which probably served as Zhao's source. For this scroll Zhao selected only a short, generally applicable philosophical passage from the much longer text.

Published References
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st ed. New York. vols. 1, 3: pp. 269, 59.
  • Thomas Lawton, Joseph Chang, Stephen Allee. Brushing the Past: Later Chinese Calligraphy from the Gift of Robert Haftield Ellsworth. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 8, pp. 82-85, 130-31.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 256-261.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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