Art History of China

During the early Buddhist Art, Buddha was never represented in a human image; instead, symbols were used to depict its teachings and presence. The stupa was one of the symbols used to illustrate the presence of Buddha. Stupa is an elevated sandstone sculpture carved from a fence rail. The sculpture indicated the ever presence of Buddha in the human world. In the middle of the sculpture ensemble was the BuddhaOs funerary mound. The sculpture also included celestial figures flying above, with flowers and garlands. The flowering Sal trees added visual symmetry and frame to the scene. Sal trees are believed to have grown where Buddha left his body before going into the Nirvana.

White Horse Temple

The White Horse Temple was established between 29A.D. and 75 A.D. by Emperor Ming from the Eastern Han Dynasty. From the history, Emperor Ming dreamt of a pleasant scene where a breathtaking god flew into his palace. The artists of the Six Dynasties created the basis for the development of Chinese painting, while the Tang Dynasty led the golden age of art in China. The ink and wash painting styles were established during the Tang Dynasty. Li Zhaodao created outstanding landscape paintings, one of them depicting Ming Huang’s Journey to Shu.

Ming Huang’s Journey to Shu

The foreground of this friendly landscape is dotted with trees and riders. The middle ground and the background show the inspiring Mountains of Sichuan, with some of them emerging from the fog. Ming Huang was the 7th Emperor of the Tang dynasty, and he reigned between 712 and 756 AD. The Kaiyuan era (during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong) is regarded as the golden age of Chinese culture and history.

The Development of Burial Art from the Neolithic to Han Periods

The Neolithic Era 3000 to 1500 B.C.

The oldest known Chinese Stone Age civilization was the relatively classy Yangshao, whose citizens lived in undeveloped settlements and practiced hunting, using carved stone-headed spears. The Chinese Neolithic pottery, both durable and delicate, was craftily designed and served ritual, as well as practical, purposes. Yangshao-painted potteries were designed with the help of the clay coils to form the desired shape. Their surface was then smoothened with scrapers and pebbles. Those pottery containers were discovered in graves, often painted with black and red pigments. This form of art demonstrated the early use of brushes for linear compositions and sped up the development of the fundamental burial art in China.

Shang Dynasty 1523 to 1028 B.C.

The cast-bronze weapons added to the military power of Shang kings. Later on, the same technology and material were used to cast vessels that bore the monster mask motif. Those vessels carried the names and titles of rulers and kings. When those rulers and kings died, they were buried together with their vessels. The woven silk, lacquer ware, Ding Tripod, and glazed ceramics were first introduced during the Shang dynasty.

Ding Tripod

Qin: “Terra-Cotta Warriors”

A subterranean army made of thousands of life-size terracotta horses and chariots was excavated in Shaanxi, where the burial chambers of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi are believed to have been located (246 to 210 B.C.). The soldiers, located in three subterranean gorges, became the most noticeable element of the burial compound that contains the elements of the funerary precinct, with auxiliary burial and sacrificial pits. Those underground soldiers had to function as Emperor Qin Shi’s bodyguards made from clay. The armies represented the actual solders and horses that are believed to have been buried together with their master.

Terra-Cotta Warriors

TLV Mirror

TLV mirrors are Chinese mirrors, whose origins can be traced back to the Han period, between 202 B.C. and 220 A.D. These mirrors have three peculiar angles that resemble letters T, L, and V. The TLV mirrors and other bronze objects were the most esteemed and precious grave items during the Han period. This evidence is used to compare the quality and quantity of graves that were furnished with the bronze TLV mirrors, against those with usual bronze used to construct jar burial cemeteries.

Peach Blossom Spring” by Qiu Ying (1368-1644)

Materials used: Ink, color and paper.

The prose “Peach Blossom Spring” was composed by Tao Yuanming (365-427), one of the most renowned poets in China. The poetic composition tells a story of a fisherman. On one of his fishing adventures, the fisherman found himself surrounded by the blossoming peach trees on both banks of the river. He stopped and got out of his fishing boat. He found a narrow path, which led him to a perfect place and a pristine. The place had no traces of civilization, protected from the hundred years of turmoil, everything being in harmonious accord. The adventurous fisherman was welcomed by the natives and asked about the perfect place. He spent several days there and left, leaving marks on his way back to inform his people and the local magistrate about his new finding. When he took others to the perfect place, he could not find the entrance; nor could he find the marks he had left on his first journey. The painting has been a well-liked painting and literary theme since the 5th century.

Qiu Ying was born in Taicang. During his early age, he and his family moved to Suzhou, where he spent the rest of his life, as a painter and professional artist. His talents were recognized early in life, and he became a pupil of Zhou Chen. As a result, he was exposed to numerous original paintings from various patrons and art collectors in the Suzhou region. Qiu teamed up with Wen Zhengmingin in 1527, after Wen had returned from Beijing. Most of the time Wen spent doing calligraphy, while Qiu was illustrating his texts with pictures. Many of Qiu’s art works were made in the earlier styles, mostly those of the Song dynasty. For instance, the “Peach Blossom Spring” was made in green and blue colors that used to be popular under the Tang dynasty.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was established during the Ming Dynasty (1406 – 1420 AD). This palatial, magnificent architectural complex occupies an area of approximately 2,350,000 square feet and has 9,999 compartments. For this reason, it is considered to be the largest complex in the world. It is also surrounded by the ten-foot-high parameter walls, which are crowned by the four watch towers and surrounded by a moat. The parameter walls have four gates, with three openings and extensive crowning pavilions. The layout is based on a Chinese celestial diagram of the universe, which defines the cardinal axes. The complex is the brightest illustration of traditional Chinese architecture. The general layout of the complex is centered on the three Halls of state (Taihedian, Zhonghedian, and Baohedian). The state ceremonies were conducted in the Outer Court of the city. It is from this complex that emperors governed, held their court sessions, issued imperial decrees, and initiated military expeditions. In addition, the Outer Court of the city was used during the key state ceremonies, such as, emperors’ accession to power, as well as weddings and birthdays. The Inner Court also functioned as the imperial household.

Currently, the Forbidden City is the world’s famous museum of Chinese art. Its chambers are filled with various art works and cultural artifacts. A great number of these artifacts depict the peak of artistic genius exhibited by the innumerable artisans, who worked in the Forbidden City.

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