Four Treasures of the Study — The Essentials for Chinese Literati Culture

6 April–30 June 2019

Exhibition Overview

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Wenren (文人, the literati) refers to senior bureaucrats, including the Emperor, who has both the intellectual mind to conduct the state affairs and the integrity
to be respected. The term distinguishes these people from wuren (武人, warriors). Wenren should be outstanding at not only calligraphy, literature, music and art but also forest conservation and flood control. It was thus necessary for them to read “ten thousand volumes” of books and travel far across the oceans in order to acquire knowledge and experiences in diverse fields. Wenfang (文房) was a term for a reading room or a study in the Tang dynasty and, for wenren, these spaces were also a place for self-cultivation. These wenfang were equipped with important stationery — ink brushes, ink cakes, inkstones and paper — the so-called Wen Fang Si Bao (Four Treasures of the Study). Other stationery included seal materials, brush rests, brush holders, water droppers and jade objects, all carefully being selected under the keen aesthetic sensibilities of wenren. These objects thus reflect the high intellectuality of the master of the study.

For wenren, wenfang was not only a place for daily self-improvement, however, but also for temporarily separating oneself from the busy state affairs and being immersed in a serene, private moment. There was an air of tranquility, being isolated from the mundane world, which had been created by and shared with their predecessors. In order to fully appreciate this particular moment, wenren selected their favorite stationery with discerning eyes and placed their collections in their studies. Still today, these objects invite us to their special, quiet and refined time.

This exhibition introduces the visitors to the world of Wen Fang Si Bao, which always captivated the hearts of Chinese wenren. The approximately 150 works on display are mostly from prominent stationery collections in Japan, produced in the Ming and Qing dynasties of China.

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