Download PDF Unmistakably Black: Sculpture and Paintings From Asias First Civilisation

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For a dynasty-by-dynasty guide, see below: History of Chinese Art. Characteristics of Chinese Art. Metaphysical, Daoist Aspect Ever since the era of Prehistoric art , Chinese society - itself almost wholly agricultural or rural until the 20th century - has always placed great importance on understanding the pattern of nature and co-existing with it. Nature was perceived as the visible manifestation of God's creativity, using the interaction of the yin female and yang male life forces.

The main aim of Chinese art - initially centered on propitiation and sacrifice - soon turned to the expression of human understanding of these life forces, in a variety of artforms, including painting notably that of landscapes, bamboo, birds, and flowers , pottery, relief sculpture and the like. The Chinese also believed that the energy and rhythm generated by an artist resonated closely with the ultimate source of that energy. They thought that art - especially calligraphy and painting - had the capacity to refresh the artist or to retard him spiritually, according to the harmony of his practice and the character of the individual himself.

See also: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.

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Moral, Confucian Aspect Chinese art also had social and moralistic functions. The earliest mural paintings , for instance, portrayed benevolent emperors, wise ministers, loyal generals, as well as their evil opposites, as an example and a warning to observers. Portrait art had a similar moral function, which aimed to highlight not the facial or figurative features of the subject so much as his or her character and status in society.

Inspirational But Not Essentially Religious Court painters were frequently commissioned to depict auspicious and memorable events, but high religious painting is unknown in Chinese art. Even Buddhism, which stimulated the production of numerous masterpieces, was actually a foreign import.

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The main thing is that themes used in traditional Chinese art were almost always noble, or inspirational. Thus overly realistic subjects such as war, death, violence, martyrdom or even the nude, were avoided. Furthermore, Chinese artistic tradition does not separate form from content: it is not enough, for instance, for the form to be exquisite if the subject is unedifying.

Inner Essence Not Outer Appearance Unlike Western artists, Chinese painters were not interested in replicating nature, or creating a true-life depiction of say a landscape. Instead they focused on expressing the inner essence of the subject. Remember, rocks and streams were seen as "live" things, visible manifestations of the invisible forces of the cosmos.

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Therefore, it was the role of the artist to capture the spiritual rather than the material characteristics of the object concerned. Symbolism in Chinese Visual Art Chinese art is full of symbolism , in that artists typically seek to depict some aspect of a totality of which they are intuitively aware. In addition, Chinese art is packed with specific symbols: bamboo represents a spirit which can be bent by circumstance but not broken; jade represents purity; a dragon often symbolizes the emperor; the crane, long life; a pair of ducks , fidelity in marriage.

Plant symbols include: the orchid , another symbol of purity and loyalty; and the pine tree , which symbolizes endurance. Some art critics , however, prefer to describe Chinese art as essentially expressionist, rather than symbolic.

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The Impact of the Amateur Artist During the Warring States period and the Han Dynasty, the growth of a merchant and landowning class led to increased numbers of art lovers and patrons with time on their hands. This led to the emergence in the third century CE of an elite class of scholarly amateur artists, involved in the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting and a range of crafts. These amateurs tended to look down their nose at the lower-class professional artist, employed by the Imperial court, and other regional or civic authorities. Moreover, this division of artists later had a significant influence on the character of Chinese art.

Just like skill in writing letters or poetry, the ability to excel at calligraphy and painting helped establish one's status in a society of learned individuals.

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History of Chinese Art. The Shang Dynasty was assumed to be mythical until the discovery in north-west China, in , of a hoard of oxen's shoulder-blades bearing inscriptions. But see also: Xia Dynasty Culture c. In the same region, near Anyang, quantities of bronze vessels were unearthed bearing inscriptions in ancient Chinese script.

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When deciphered and compared they enabled scholars to piece together the history of Shang society with the names and dates of kings. It was a loose federation of city-states whose bronze weapons enabled them to dominate the valley of the Hoang-ho Yellow River and its tributary, the Wei.

In many ways the Shang resembled the Mycenean princes celebrated by Homer. Their bronze vases and vessels - the key achievement of Shang Dynasty art - were made by the method of direct casting as well as by the cire-perdue lost-wax process. They were used by kings and their retainers for ritual and sacrificial ceremonies.

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The inscriptions they bear give the name of the owner and the maker with the purpose of the ceremony. The vessels were buried with their owners and they acquired a green, blue or red patina according to the nature of the soil. They fall into three main categories: vessels for cooking or containing ritual food, vessels for heating or pouring millet wine, and vessels for ritual washing. They were utilitarian, functional objects, but this did not prevent them from being superb works of art. Their ritual purpose and magical connotations explain the symbolic nature of the early decoration.

Motifs from the animal world were mainly used - the dragon and the cicada life and fertility or the fabulous tao-tieh - which resembles a cross between an ox and a tiger. Note: From onwards, archeologists made a series of sensational discoveries at the Sanxingdui archaeological site located near Nanxing Township, Guanghan County, Sichuan Province. These finds included numerous monumental examples of bronze sculpture from the era of the Shang Dynasty , which have been carbon-dated to c.

They reveal an advanced Sanxingdui culture which, contrary to all previous historical scholarship, appears to have evolved independently of other Yellow River cultures. Another achievement of the Shang Dynasty was the invention of calligraphy which occurred about BCE. In addition, watercolour painting , which began, so it is said, around BCE, was also fashionable. For comparative artforms of the period, see: Mesopotamian Art c. The state of Shang came to be dominated by the Zhou highlanders from the west who captured the capital, Anyang, in BCE. Zhou Dynasty art borrowed a great deal from the Shang culture and produced the same kind of vessels but with a few differences. The stylistic evolution was gradual and a marked change appeared only after the Zhou had moved eastwards to a new capital, Luoyang, in BCE. The high relief sculpture of the Shang motifs gave way to low relief and registers.

Ornament became increasingly geometric until it was reduced to wing-and-spiral and hook-and-volute patterns. With the tools of the Iron Age it became possible to introduce inlaying of gold and silver. This was the period of the Warring States about BCE , when the Zhou state had disintegrated into contending feudal territories. Confucius, who died at the beginning of this period, was a high-minded moralist and the unsuccessful adviser, for a time, of one of the Zhou's rulers.

He was a travelling teacher, and lectured on political ethics, non-violence and filial piety. His doctrine was collected, much later, in the Analects which became the gospel of the all-powerful class of scholarly civil servants, remaining so till modern times, and which deeply marked the Chinese code of manners. Among the 'Hundred Schools of Philosophy which addressed themselves to the Chinese ruling classes during the period of the Warring States, the most remarkable perhaps was that of the Daoists Taoists.

Daoism is an attitude to life not a system. It implies being in harmony with nature and shuns all dogmas and restrictive moral codes.

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Its most famous theoreticians were Laozi Lao-tzu , an enigmatic author expressing himself in paradoxical sayings, and Zhuangzi Chuang-tzu about BCE who wrote in parables pervaded with a subtle irony and showing a deep insight into man's motivations. To some people they seem to combine the best in Christianity, Zen Buddhism and Yoga. Daoism was destined to have a profound influence on Chinese painting.

He smashed feudalism and replaced the warlords by civil servants or commissars. His advisers belonged to the legalist schools who asserted the authority of the State. Traditions were to be forgotten and all books destroyed, particularly the writings of Confucius. Qin Dynasty art was unimportant compared to its political and administrative activities. Qin Shihuang gave China a unified administration and a road system; he built canals and extended the frontiers of China.

He also commissioned the huge series of terracotta figures, known as The Terracotta Army c. The 8, statues took about 38 years to make, and involved roughly , master craftsmen and other workers.

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