RARE CHINESE FORE-EDGE PAINTING: “THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT, ENQUIRING THE WAY,” ON IMPORTANT CIRCA-1800 BLOCK-PRINTED WORK
(FORE-EDGE PAINTING) HUNG-NIEN, Lu. Fore-Edge Painting. [Peking: Catholic University, circa 1939]. ON: SHIH YU. Chi Chiu Chang [Essays on Chinese Calligraphy]. WITH: I Chou Shu [History of the Chou Dynasty]. No place: circa 1800. Tall octavo, later side-sewn dark blue wrappers. Housed in custom ornamental clamshell box, and a custom half leather clamshell storage box.
Wonderful rare Christian fore-edge painting, executed by Chinese artists around 1939 under the direction of Catholic missionary and college president, William B. Pettus, after a painting by very promising student Lu Hung-Nien.
The Chi-chiu is the oldest surviving text on “swift-done script,” attributed to the first-century (B.C.) calligrapher Shih Yu— this late 18th-century edition printed in blocks cut in the format of vertical bamboo slips. It had become the most widely used Han elementary text and the single-most important primer through the early T’ang Dynasty. Bound with it is a block-book edition of the I Chou Shu, a history of the Chou Dynasty compiled from “lost records” uncovered from the third century B.C. The magnificent fore-edge painting on this volume, entitled “Flight into Egypt, Enquiring the Way,” is rendered in the Ming style of the 14th and 15th centuries, executed by 20th-century Chinese artists connected with the Catholic University in Peking in the 1930s. It was copied from a painting by Lu Hung-Nien, a student at the time. With a minuteness of detail and ornamental use of color, especially a rich blue-green that designates the principal figures, Mary and Joseph, this painting was produced under the direction of the President of the University’s College of of Chinese Studies, Dr. William Bacon Pettus, who brought the concept of fore-edge painting to China. Entitled “The Holy Refugees,” Hung-Nien’s original work was reproduced in the December 22, 1941 issue of Life magazine and is currently in the possession of the Pettus family. For the artist, this painting held special significance, “because he has seen thousands of his own people take to the road like the Holy Family, with a few bundles and a donkey, escaping from tyranny in their own land” (Life). Hung-Nien’s later painting of “Our Lady of China and Baby Jesus” was the basis for the central mosaic in the National Shrine of the United States in Washington, D.C.
Fore-edge painting clean and bright, a few small holes and tears (not affecting fore-edge), minor expert repairs and one broken clasp on extraordinary custom clamshell case.