Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Arts of the Islamic World
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Long before the Chinese invented paper in the first century B.C.E., they devised the round brush, which is used for both writing and painting. The unique versatility of the Chinese brush lies in its tapered tip, which is composed of a careful grouping of chosen animal hairs. Through this resilient tip flow the ever-changing linear qualities of the twin arts of the brush: calligraphy and painting.

Since painting and calligraphy share many of the same materials and techniques, the relationship between the two art forms has always been a close one in China. The earliest examples of brushwork are writings found on the so-called "oracle bones," the bones of certain animals used for divination during the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1050 B.C.E.), when the origin of systematic writing in China began. Over the next two thousand years, five major script types—seal, clerical, standard, running, and cursive— developed. Though the basic evolution of the Chinese writing system was complete by the fourth century C.E., calligraphy continued to develop as an artistic medium until the present day. Similarly, while the earliest known brush paintings on silk were excavated from tombs of the Warring States Period (480–221 B.C.E.), painting as an art of personal expression also began its early formative period around the fourth century C.E. and has steadily evolved over the following centuries.
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Suggested Resources

Bamboo in the Wind, by Wu Zhen
Bamboo in the Wind
by Wu Zhen (1280–1354)
China, Yuan dynasty, 1350
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
109.0 x 32.6 cm (43 x 13 in.)
Purchase    F1953.85
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art
Exhibition List | Online Exhibitions

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