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What is the translation of the text and seal on this scroll?

What is the script type of the large main text? Initially I thought it was seal script since the characters looked quite similar to those on the Shuowen Jiezi radicals list but then didn't have much success translating them using http://www.guoxuedashi.com/zidian/xz/

Thought the second character might be some variant of 明 - http://shufa.guoxuedashi.com/660E/5/ The last character seemed to be 天 - http://www.guoxuedashi.com/zidian/5929.html

Thanks

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  • The large calligraphy says 髙(高)明⿰酉卩(配)天
  • The seal says 𢿩(敬)璧

「高明配天」 is a short segment from the Doctrine of the Mean. The entire line that this segment is found in is

...博厚配地,高明配天,悠久無疆...

...one's learning as expansive as the land on this earth, one's achievements as noble and lofty as the blue sky, lasting through to eternity...

The seal 「敬璧」 is part of the name of the artist (as given on the smaller calligraphy on the left).

Generally, if you find something that kind of looks like seal script but feels somewhat off (e.g. you can't identify some components), you can assume that it's some kind of pre-Qin writing style. I would classify the large calligraphy as being inspired by oracle bone script and the seal as being inspired by inscriptions from around the Spring and Autumn period.

We can have a go at explaining the character shapes below...


The closest shape to the first character in the large calligraphy is 「髙」, which we normally write nowadays as 「高」. 「高」 (high/lofty/tall) is made up of semantic 「京」 (picture of a tall watchtower/pavilion) and a distinguishing mark 「口」 whose function is to distinguish the word represented by 「高」 from the word represented by 「京」.



高
1.34.5
合集2359
西周

高
不𡢁簋蓋
集成4329


高
195
睡虎地秦簡


高

 


The third character in the large calligraphy transcribed into regular script is

⿰酉卩

which was originally made up of a kneeling person 「卩」 next to an alcohol vessel 「酉」. The original meaning was an abstraction of people jointly kneeling or prostrating at a ritual (and wine was often an offering in these rituals), and the joint ritual meaning was semantically extended to join, pair, match.



⿰酉卩
2244
合集31841
西周

⿰酉卩
㝬鐘
集成260
春秋

⿰酉卩
蔡侯盤
集成10171

「卩」 was then corrupted into 「己」.

春秋

配
拍敦
集成4644


配
酉部
說文解字


配

 


The closest shape to the first character in the seal is 「𢿩」, and this is normally written nowadays as 「敬」. The character 「敬」 (Zhengzhang OC: /*kreŋs/, respect) comes from semantic 「攵・攴」 (hand holding a hitting weapon) and phonetic 「茍」 (/*kɯɡ/). The shape in the seal comes from a corruption of the

⿱卝勹

part of 「茍」 into 「羌」, and this corruption is not inherited in the modern form 「敬」.

西周

敬
叔䟒父卣
集成5428
西周

𢿩
大克鼎
集成2836
春秋

𢿩
王子午鼎
集成2811

隸定
𢿩

 

Note: the proportions have been distorted slightly in the seal.

components of 𢿩 in the seal


This should be recognisable from the small calligraphy on the left, if not for the distorted proportions.

components of 璧 in the seal


References:

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  • 2
    I'm amazed by your professional use of the kbd tag in the answer! Really an excellent practice to follow. – Stan Jul 2 at 3:52
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    @Stan thanks! But I think people from StackOverflow would cringe instead. Anyway, this whole thing grew out of a desire to draft up glyph evolution tables, but StackExchange networks didn't support tables before. That's apparently about to change soon though. – dROOOze Jul 2 at 8:41
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What is the script type of the large main text?

it’s bronze script. you may compare the text with the 漢語多功能字庫

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=高

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=明

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=配

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=天

as droooze indicated, the bigger characters are “高明配天”, a verse originated from 中庸; one of the english translation is:

so high and brilliant, it makes him the co-equal of heaven

https://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=gb&id=10286#s10099606

this interpretation is adequate for most :)

the smaller characters on the left are:

seven (七) years [old] (齡) boy (童) jeung [surname, romanisation in sydney lau scheme] (張) ging bik (敬璧) learning (學) calligraphy (書 —-> 書法)

the seal is “敬璧” (read from right to left), in seal script (with certain level of deviation)

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=敬

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=璧

have fun 😸

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks @水巷孑蠻. Why Jeung and not Zhang? Or are they equivalent? Not overly familiar with the Sydney (Sidney?) Lau scheme... – moss Jul 2 at 9:25
  • @moss 水巷孑蠻 is a Cantonese speaker, and "Jeung" is the Cantonese pronunciation. In general, a name written in Chinese characters may not actually be in Mandarin, so until we know the background of the artist, any Chinese language can be used to describe the name. "Zhang" is Mandarin, and that's what's more commonly seen for obvious reasons, but you may see Hokkien, Hakka or even Korean and Vietnamese pronunciations floating around in various places. – dROOOze Jul 2 at 9:30
  • @moss, well, it’s according to the scheme. actually, the common, standard romanisation of “張” in hong kong is “cheung”. the main reason that i do not use pinyin is: there’re numerous romanisation schemes, it’s a “trendy” matter. don’t’ fixate to any particular one, otherwise, one would have problem to read materials dated from 17th century. – 水巷孑蠻 Jul 2 at 12:57

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