In ancient China, painting and calligraphy were the most highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced almost exclusively by amateurs, aristocrats and scholar-officials who alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks, made from pine soot and animal glue. Writing as well as painting was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the 1st century, silk was gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued throughout China’s history and are mounted on scrolls and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.
Wang Xizhi was a famous Chinese calligrapher who lived in the 4th century AD. His most famous work is the Lanting Xu, the preface to a collection of poems. The script was often celebrated as the high point of the semi-cursive “Running Style” in the history of Chinese calligraphy.
Wang is generally regarded as the greatest Chinese calligrapher in history, and was a master of all forms of Chinese calligraphy, especially the running script. Emperor Taizong of Tang admired his works so much that the original Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion was said to be buried with the emperor in his mausoleum.
In addition to the esteem in which he is held in China, he has been and remains influential in Japanese calligraphy.
Wang Xizhi had seven children, all of whom were notable calligraphers. The most distinguished was his youngest son, Wang Xianzhi.
In 2010, a small Tang reproduction of one of Wang’s calligraphy scrolls on silk with four lines was sold in China at an auction for ¥308 million RMB ($48 million).