Ancient Chinese Art (paintings, sculptures)

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China has a very long and ancient tradition of very fine arts and crafts dating back to 10,000 BC!

Throughout history, Chinese artists and craftsmen have produced fine sculptures, calligraphy (fancy writing), fine paintings, silk painting, painting and ceramics.

Different styles and subjects were influenced by Chinese philosophy, religion and ways of life. Elsewhere in the world, artistic traditions have died out and been replaced by other styles or preferences over time.

In China, there was a developing style and evolving techniques that were unique to the country. This makes it one of the longest artistic traditions in the world.

Painting

In Chinese painting, you would see lots of different daily scenes and nature. Paintings were done on beautiful paper, scrolls or silk. 907-1127 AD is known as the ‘Great Age of Chinese Landscape’ because lots of beautiful natural scenes were painted in this time.

Many paintings have been preserved in tombs where they were buried with emperors and other important people. There are two main techniques in painting:

Gong-bi

This means ‘meticulous’. Meticulous means to take great care over something and do something in lots of detail. This is exactly what this technique of painting involved.

Gong-bi paintings were very colourful and very detailed. You might see Gong-bi paintings that depict stories (narratives), birds or flowers.

Shui-mo

This was ink wash painting, which is like watercolour painting. These paintings were produced by gentlemen and noblemen.

Sculpture

There are some very impressive sculptures from Ancient China made from bronze. They started from the Shang and Zhou dynasties.

The Terracotta Army is a life-size army made from terracotta. The soldier sculptures in the Terracotta Army are some of the most famous sculptures. They date from 221-210 BC and were placed in tombs.

Terracotta Army

Pottery

Chinese ceramics are famous throughout the world. The materials needed to make pottery were always easily found in the Chinese countryside.

The earliest pottery is from the Palaeolithic era, 2.6 million years ago, and have been found by archaeologists.

Chinese porcelain was made for rulers. Chinese vases, jars and sculptures were known about throughout the world because they were traded or given as gifts to foreign rulers.

Chinese Ceramics

Calligraphy

Writing was one of the most highly prized art forms in China. It was seen as the highest form of painting and it was thought that beautiful words should be painted beautifully. To do calligraphy at this time, you would have used a brush made from animal hair and black paint made from soot and glue.

Chinese calligraphy

There are some famous calligraphers in China who are still known today for their unique styles and great skill:

-Wang Xizhi lived in the 4th century AD. He is famous for writing the Lanting Xu, a collection of poems. He is famous for the ‘running style’ of Chinese calligraphy.

-Wei Shuo lived during the Eastern Jin dynasty (266-420 AD). She was famous for a work called Famous Concubine Inscription and The Inscription of Wei-shi He’nan.

Quiz

Test yourself with these quick questions about Ancient Chinese art

  • What is the highest form of painting?
  • What is calligraphy?
  • Name two materials sculptures could be made from
  • What are the most famous ancient sculptures in China?
  • How did people around the world know about Chinese ceramics?

Answers

  • Calligraphy
  • Writing created with ink and a brush/fancy writing
  • Jade and bronze (or terracotta)
  • The Terracotta Army are very famous sculptures from China
  • People knew about Chinese ceramics through trade and through gifts

Ancient China

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