Chapter 1167: The Ink Slab Won’t Grind Itself
Translator: StarveCleric Editor: StarveCleric
"Assuming that you are right, what does determining the material of the canvas and the age of the painting have to do with deciphering the seal?" the copper-masked figure interjected Zhang Xuan.
"There's indeed no direct relation between them, but such analysis allows us to deduce the reason why Sorrowless Old Man has decided to leave behind a seal on the painting, as well as to determine possible flaws and deficiencies in the seal." Zhang Xuan replied with a smile.
"To claim that you are able to determine the flaws and deficiencies within a painting through just the age of the painting itself, aren't you being a little too conceited over there?" Zhang Jiuxiao tilted his head upward and harrumphed. Due to him speaking too forcefully, the durians on his head shook violently, seemingly ready to fall to the ground at any moment.
Even though the crowd had remained silent, the looks on their faces showed that they agreed with Zhang Jiuxiao's point of view. Being able to accurately determine the age of painting did prove that one was an outstanding appraiser, but that piece of knowledge had nothing to do with the seal at all.
"Don't impose your ignorance upon others." Zhang Xuan replied nonchalantly. He took a sweeping glance across the room before eventually halting his gaze upon a certain figure. "If I'm not mistaken, you are the head of the Painter Guild, right?"
"Indeed. My name is Meng Chong." Guild Leader Meng stood up and clasped his fist politely.
"Guild Leader Meng, pardon for troubling you, but may I ask what kind of painting style was in trend in the Qingyuan Empire Painter Guild two thousand years ago? What kind of brush stroke was preferred then?" Zhang Xuan asked.
"This…" Guild Leader Meng contemplated for a moment before replying, "Two thousand years ago, the painting style that was popular within Qingyuan Empire was the [Anchored Painting Style]! This style consists of determining the specific size and outline of the objects within the painting before slowly painting them over a layer after a layer. Usually, one would first spread a layer of ink over the entire paper before slowly painting it on a layer after a layer. Every single layer must be done with utmost preciseness, and the margin of allowed errors is minimal. It is an extremely intensive process, but it allows for the creation of extremely vivid and wholesome paintings!"
Just like anything else, painting styles would also gradually change over the years. Each era had their unique mark which differed greatly from the other.
It was based on such differences that allowed appraisers to be able to identify the era which a certain artifact was produced.
The Anchored Painting Style was in trend two thousand years ago, and many painters had chosen to adopt that style in their painting. Of them, the most notable figure was definitely the Sorrowless Old Man.
It was for this reason that everyone immediately guessed that it was the work of the Sorrowless Old Man when they first saw the painting.
"Indeed, it's the Anchored Painting Style." Zhang Xuan nodded. "While the Anchored Painting Style allows for extremely vivid and wholesome paintings, there is a huge downside to it as well. The ink used in the painting must be equal throughout so that the painting remains flat as the sides of a knife. Otherwise, the painter would be mocked for his lack of skill…"
At this point, Zhang Xuan gestured to the painting, "However, this painting is of the equal thickness throughout, be it the sky, greenery, mountains, or clouds."
Everyone swiftly extended their Spiritual Perception towards the painting in order to perceive it with greater clarity, and a moment later, they nodded in agreement.
That was indeed the case.
If the other party hadn't spoken about it, they might not have noticed this anomaly.
"So what if the painting is of equal thickness?" the copper-masked figure harrumphed impatiently. "What I need is for the seal to be deciphered, not an analysis of the painting!"
"Calm down and listen to my words first. They contain the crux to deciphering the seal in the painting." Zhang Xuan turned to the copper-masked figure to appease him before continuing on, "Like what I have said earlier, the Sorrowless Old Man had worked on the painting on two separate occasions, and there was an interval of thirty years for those two occasions. In other words, the painting was already complete the first time that he had worked on it. Based on the standards of the Anchored Painting Style, the painting must have already been flat then... Thirty years later, in order to conceal some kind of secret, the Sorrowless Old Man intentionally added white clouds onto the mountains. Since he was painting over his work then, there should have been a difference in the thickness of the painting between the clouds and the remaining portions."
Hearing those words, the crowd turned their attention back to the clouds once more, and a moment ago, bewilderment seeped into their eyes.
"The painting is of equal thickness throughout even for the portions with the clouds…"
"How could this be?"
Such voices could be heard throughout the hall.
As spoken by the voices in the hall, the clouds were of equal thickness with the rest of the painting. Just looking at the painting by itself, there was nothing that suggested the painting had been worked on twice.
"I believe everyone should be able to tell that the painting is of equal thickness throughout. What this means is that he had shaved off a layer of the painting prior to adding on the clouds!" Zhang Xuan nodded.
The crowd widened their eyes in disbelief.
"To shave off the original work and add something different to it? Is this even feasible in practice?" The head of the Painter Guild, Meng Chong, expressed his skepticism towards the matter.
As a 7-star pinnacle painter, he fully understood the difficulty in pulling such a thing off in practice.
Since the Sorrowless Old Man was working with ink, as most painters did, the matter wasn't as simple as simply painting over the previous layer. Ink that had seeped into the canvas from painting the previous layers would affect the new layer that had been painted over, causing unpredictable distortions in the painting over time. Yet, the painting before him showed no distortions of that sort... Theoretically, by careful calculation and fine control of one's brush stroke, it might be possible to pull something as complicated as that off, but anyone with the slightest understanding of painting would understand that it was nigh impossible to carry out in practice!
"You're right, but what if he were to use Suspended Imagery on the painting instead?" Zhang Xuan asked.
"Suspended Imagery? But that would make it a separate entity from the painting!" Guild Leader Meng Chong replied.
Suspended Imagery referred to the capability of painting in midair. However, if the clouds were to be painted using suspended imagery, it wouldn't fuse in with the rest of the painting. In other words, if one were to just move the canvas, the two would separate from one another. However, it was clear from the painting itself that the clouds had fused in with the rest of the painting.
"That would indeed be an issue, but just like what Zhang Jiuxiao had said, a spirit had been infused into the painting. If I were to just make an analogy, if the previous painting and the clouds are two different sheets of paper, the spirit would be the binding factor between them, allowing them to fuse without interfering with one another!" Zhang Xuan nodded.
The crowd came to a realization.
They were still a little confused previously when Zhang Jiuxiao said that there was a spirit within the painting, but after listening to the explanation, they finally understood what was going on.
'But after all you have said, haven't you come to the same conclusion as me?" Zhang Jiuxiao harrumphed.
He was still wondering what kind of astounding theories the fellow would come up with, but after going one big round, the other party still ended up stumbling on the same conclusion as him.
"That isn't really the case." Zhang Xuan said. "You have accurately identified the presence of a spirit within the painting, but do you know the reason behind it and how it can be dispelled?"
"I…" Zhang Jiuxiao's face turned crimson upon hearing those words.
The only reason why he knew that there was a spirit within the painting was because he had once witnessed an elder deciphering something similar back in his clan... As for the reason why a spirit was infused into the painting and how one could resolve the issue, he was honestly not too sure.
If he had truly understood the issue, he wouldn't have ended up sprouting durians on his head either.
"Since there is a spirit binding the two, it is nigh impossible to separate them. If one were to do it forcefully, it might even result in the destruction of both paintings. To make an analogy, that is equivalent to attempting to tear apart two pieces of paper which have been bound together with glue for several thousand years. Even one were to succeed in pulling them apart, would the remains of the painting still be discernible?" Turning his attention away from the conceited Zhang Jiuxiao, Zhang Xuan continued his analysis.
"This…" Hearing those words, the face of the copper-masked figure twitched slightly before falling silent.
His purpose of undoing the seal was to find out what was hidden beneath the clouds. As such, it would be pointless to him if the layer beneath were to be destroyed as well in the midst of separating the painting from the clouds.
After a moment of silence, the copper-masked figure turned to Zhang Xuan and asked, "Zhang shi, is there a way to separate the clouds while ensuring that the painting remains intact?"
Since the young man was able to make sense out of the situation, perhaps... he might just be able to accomplish what others had failed at.
"Since I walked up here and said so much, naturally, I am confident in resolving the issue." Zhang Xuan replied with a smile.
"Oh? I beseech you to enlighten me…"
The eyes of the copper-masked figure lit up upon hearing Zhang Xuan's words, and he quickly clasped his fist earnestly.
"It's actually rather simple." Zhang Xuan nodded.
"If the Sorrowless Old Man had used any other binding factor in order to fix the clouds to the painting, it would have been truly difficult to separate the two. However, since he had chosen to use a spirit instead, it actually plays to our advantage. The spirit infused into the painting is similar to a plant spirit, it would only develop or act in very specific manners. In this case, it would be to bind the two parts of the painting together. In essence, it wouldn't be wrong to say that the spirit possesses no sentience. I believe that Guild Leader Ruan should be aware of it as well."
"Un." Guild Leader Ruan nodded.
Most plants possessed spirit, which controlled their intake of nutrients to facilitate their growth. However, unlike the animal spirits, they didn't have a sense of self, which disallowed them from roaming around freely and averting disasters on their own accord.
"It was due to the lack of sentience that the spirit was able to sustain the monotonous work of binding the two paintings together for two thousand years. Thus, if I were to grant the spirit sentience, do you think that it'll still be able to carry out its job as well?" Zhang Xuan said with a smile.
"If the spirit is granted sentience, it'll view the clouds above the painting as a tumor plaguing the painting, rendering it extremely uncomfortable. It would surely struggle to get rid of the clouds above it!"
"That seems to be the case, but... granting sentience to the spirit wouldn't be an easy task, would it?"
"It doesn't seem like it would be easy to pull that off…"
With a direction pointed out for them, the eyes of the crowd lit up. However, at the same time, they had also come to a bottleneck as well.
Enchanting spirit into a weapon was easy, but granting sentience into a spirit which had laid dormant for more than two thousand years was clearly something not as simple.
"It's indeed something not too easy to carry out in practice, but I happen to be able to do it." Zhang Xuan smiled.
"Zhang shi, I implore you to help me. If you are able to do so, I'll surely reward you handsomely for this!"
The copper-masked figure bowed deeply to Zhang Xuan.
Previously, he had thought that the crowd of Qingyuan Empire was inept, being unable to even discern the presence of the seal of the painting. However, after hearing Zhang Xuan's analysis, he couldn't help but find himself in awe of the other party.
To be able to find the root of the problem within such a short period of time and deduce a feasible solution to it, his wisdom and eye of discernment were indeed extraordinary!
"Rest assured, I'll help you on this matter. However, I still need to make some preparations beforehand in order to ensure that the painting wouldn't be damaged in the process." Zhang Xuan said.
"Of course, of course!" The copper-masked figure nodded. "May I know what Zhang shi requires? If there's anything that requires my help, I'll try my best to satisfy your needs."
Speaking was always easier than doing. If it was so easy to decipher the seal, he wouldn't have been helpless before the painting despite having obtained it for so many years.
"I don't need anything for the time being." Zhang Xuan replied with a shake of his head.
He paused for a brief moment before flicking his wrist and taking out a brush. After which, he explained, "It would be difficult to enchant the painting as it is. In order to do so, I would have to either destroy the conception of the painting or carve an opening in it so as that I can extend my consciousness into it. However, doing so would inevitably cause some damage to the painting, so I would like to seek your pardon regarding this issue."
"Don't worry, feel free to do anything that you deem necessary."
What he truly valued was the secret hidden beneath the seal. In his view, no matter how valuable the painting was, it couldn't be more important than what lay beneath.
"That would be great." Heaving a sigh of relief. Zhang Xuan was just about to dab the brush in his hand into some ink when he suddenly halted for a brief moment. Then, he turned around to look at Zhang Jiuxiao and bellowed.
"What are you waiting for? The ink slab won't grind itself!" 5 Best Chinese Romance Books of 2018 So Far