Ten different inscriptions copied from Zhou, Qin and Han bronzes, with transciptions into regular script and short comments. Date and signature are at the end at far left.Ye Yanlan was active in the late nineteenth century in the Tongzhi and Guangxu eras (1861-1908), and this date falls neatly into that time. He was a native of Guangdong province, far in the South of China, and further research will have to determine whether he stayed there or had moved north into the Yangtze region. His entry in a dictionary notes his proficiency in all the standard script types, and this fan suggests that he was also a scholar of early epigraphy. This fan illustrates the antiquarian interest many scholars had in epigraphy, especially as it appeared on bronzes that were cast by the aristocracy of the earliest dynasties. At this time in the nineteenth century, the discoveries of the royal burials of the Shang dynasty at Anyang were half a century away, and although traditional histories had record of this dynasty, it was still part myth in Ye's day. For Confucius, the early kings and aristocracy of the Zhou were paragons of filial piety, and deciphering their words as they appeared on their ritual implements carried the same import as that of western scholars who investigate the Dead Sea scrolls and other early fragments of scripture. The inscriptions cover some thousand years, and some, according to Ye, are as late as the Han. In Chinese terms, this calligraphy would be in the category of "Bronze and Stone Writing" (Jinshi wen), as opposed to one of the four major script types seen on most of the fans with calligraphy. Such studies had a long history, going back into the Song dynasty, and this fan is evidence for the continuation of these traditions into the late Qing. Since Ye provides both the antique bronze form and its equivalent in regular script, students could note these comparisons and do research on similar forms in other bronzes.
Cranes on the wing. The artist's surname is Ye, but the reading of both characters of his given name is unsure; several variations on the quickly written characters are possible. One possibility, relying on the seal, is that this may be an artist named Ye Zhi, pen name Shoubo, who was active in the mid nineteenth century. It is clear from the inscription that he painted the fan in Shanghai. The loose open style of the composition, the lack of a ground plane, and even the colors, have a hint of Japanese influence; there was a good deal of artistic communication between the two countries through the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.