Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chinese Tang Dynasty

Seated Buddha [China] Standing court lady [China] Dish in the Shape of a Leaf [China] Phoenix-headed ewer [China] Buddhist stele [China] Seated Buddha [China] Attributed to Han Gan: Night-Shining White Mirror back [China] Floral medallions [China]
Flask [China]

After 300 years of division and fragmentation following the collapse of the Han dynasty in 220 A.D., China was once again unified under the Sui dynasty (581–618). The political and governmental institutions established during this brief period lay the foundation for the growth and prosperity of the succeeding Tang dynasty. Marked by strong and benevolent rule, successful diplomatic relationships, economic expansion, and a cultural efflorescence of cosmopolitan style, Tang China emerged as one of the greatest empires in the medieval world. Merchants, clerics, and envoys from India, Persia, Arabia, Syria, Korea, and Japan thronged the streets of Chang'an, the capital, and foreign tongues were a common part of daily life.

In the beginning decades of the Tang, especially under the leadership of Emperor Taizong (r. 627–50), China subdued its nomadic neighbors from the north and northwest, securing peace and safety on overland trade routes reaching as far as Syria and Rome. The seventh century was a time of momentous social change; the official examination system enabled educated men without family connections to serve as government officials. This new social elite gradually replaced the old aristocracy, and the recruitment of gentlemen from the south contributed to the cultural amalgamation that had already begun in the sixth century.

The eighth century heralded the second important epoch in Tang history, achieved largely during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–56), called minghuang—the Brilliant Monarch. It is rightfully ranked as the classical period of Chinese art and literature, as it set the high standard to which later poets, painters, and sculptors aspired. The expressions and images contained in the poems of Li Bo (ca. 700–762) and Du Fu (722–770) reflect the flamboyant lives of the court and the conflicting sentiments generated by military campaigns. The vigorous brushwork of the court painter Wu Daozi (active ca. 710–60) and the naturalist idiom of the poet and painter Wang Wei (699–759) became artistic paradigms for later generations. Although the An Lushan rebellion in the middle of the century considerably weakened the power and authority of the court, the restored government ruled for another century and a half, providing stability for lasting cultural and artistic development.

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Landscape Painting in Chinese Art

Guo Xi: Old Trees, Level Distance Attributed to Qu Ding: Summer Mountains Ma Yuan: Scholar by a Waterfall Zhao Mengfu: Twin Pines, Level Distance Wang Meng: The Simple Retreat Wen Zhengming: Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician Kuncan: Wooded Mountains at Dusk Wang Hui and assistants: The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour, Scroll Three: Ji'nan to Mount Tai Bada Shanren (Zhu Da): Fish and Rocks
Zhang Daqian: Splashed-color Landscape
By the late Tang dynasty, landscape painting had evolved into an independent genre that embodied the universal longing of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. Such images might also convey specific social, philosophical, or political convictions. As the Tang dynasty disintegrated, the concept of withdrawal into the natural world became a major thematic focus of poets and painters. Faced with the failure of the human order, learned men sought permanence within the natural world, retreating into the mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of dynastic collapse.

During the early Song dynasty, visions of the natural hierarchy became metaphors for the well-regulated state. At the same time, images of the private retreat proliferated among a new class of scholar-officials. These men extolled the virtues of self-cultivation—often in response to political setbacks or career disappointments—and asserted their identity as literati through poetry, calligraphy, and a new style of painting that employed calligraphic brushwork for self-expressive ends. The monochrome images of old trees, bamboo, rocks, and retirement retreats created by these scholar-artists became emblems of their character and spirit.

Under the Mongol Yuan dynasty, when many educated Chinese were barred from government service, the model of the Song literati retreat evolved into a full-blown alternative culture as this disenfranchised elite transformed their estates into sites for literary gatherings and other cultural pursuits. These gatherings were frequently commemorated in paintings that, rather than presenting a realistic depiction of an actual place, conveyed the shared cultural ideals of a reclusive world through a symbolic shorthand in which a villa might be represented by a humble thatched hut. Because a man's studio or garden could be viewed as an extension of himself, paintings of such places often served to express the values of their owner.

The Yuan dynasty also witnessed the burgeoning of a second kind of cultivated landscape, the "mind landscape," which embodied both learned references to the styles of earlier masters and, through calligraphic brushwork, the inner spirit of the artist. Going beyond representation, scholar-artists imbued their paintings with personal feelings. By evoking select antique styles, they could also identify themselves with the values associated with the old masters. Painting was no longer about the description of the visible world; it became a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist's heart and mind.

During the Ming dynasty, when native Chinese rule was restored, court artists produced conservative images that revived the Song metaphor for the state as a well-ordered imperial garden, while literati painters pursued self-expressive goals through the stylistic language of Yuan scholar-artists. Shen Zhou (1427–1509), the patriarch of the Wu school of painting centered in the cosmopolitan city of Suzhou, and his preeminent follower Wen Zhengming (1470–1559) exemplified Ming literati ideals. Both men chose to reside at home rather than follow official careers, devoting themselves to self-cultivation through a lifetime spent reinterpreting the styles of Yuan scholar-painters.

Morally charged images of reclusion remained a potent political symbol during the early years of the Manchu Qing dynasty, a period in which many Ming loyalists lived in self-enforced retirement. Often lacking access to important collections of old masters, loyalist artists drew inspiration from the natural beauty of the local scenery.

Images of nature have remained a potent source of inspiration for artists down to the present day. While the Chinese landscape has been transformed by millennia of human occupation, Chinese artistic expression has also been deeply imprinted with images of the natural world. Viewing Chinese landscape paintings, it is clear that Chinese depictions of nature are seldom mere representations of the external world. Rather, they are expressions of the mind and heart of the individual artists—cultivated landscapes that embody the culture and cultivation of their masters.

Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Rice Paper Uses in Western Art

Rice Paper Uses in Western Art


Rice paper lend itself to tearing, moving, layering, and breaking to allow free forms to emerge in collage.

The paper is brushed over with glue or water. It may be molded or twisted into the shapes dictated by artist. It may be crumpled resulting creases effect. It may be overlaid several times for different tones. Most artists combine the paper with other methods of collage.


Rembrandt used rice paper for his etching when he could get it.

2-ply paper yields a flat sheet of final work, and it should be sized.

Dampening - Using only spray bottle to dampen the paper. It cannot be sponged directly without being spoiled. For thin papers - especially if unsized - less moisture is required. Interleave damped papers with dry blotting-papers. It will be ready to receive the printing sheet after an hour or two.


Unsized paper tends to fluff, leaving tiny particles of fiber in the ink. However, the papers are so handsome that they are used despite their shortcomings.

Although many of them can be used in lithography, strong 2-ply paper is more reliable.

Dampen the paper only by a spray bottle. 1-ply papers are rarely dampened because they are so thin that they may tear while wet.


The monotype is a singular image painted or drawn directly on a plate and then transferred to paper by an etching press or hand-rubbing.

When a monotype is to be hand-rubbed, rice paper produces very fine results. A thin sheet of tracing paper placed between rubbing tool and the monotype paper is sometimes desirable if thin paper is used. It can prevent tearing the paper with the rubbing tool.

Generally 1-ply paper is too thin to dampen.


Rice paper makes suitable support for drawing media like charcoal, compressed charcoal, graphite stick, soft pastel, and ink.

It can be used for drawing with subtle and well-developed tonal effects, as well as for a fast sketch. 2-ply paper can also be manipulated with fingers, eraser, or a paper stump to build tones.

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Mounting flattens and thickens a work of art by rice paper and silk. One peculiar character of ink painting is that its tones look rich while the paint is still wet, but tries flat. Mounting restores its tonal strength by pasting a plain sheet of rice paper from behind, forcing sunken pigment back. The backed work is then framed with silk and installed with a pair of hanging bars for exhibition.

  • Studio
  • Tools
  • Materials
How to
  1. Making paste
  2. Backing
  3. Squaring a backed artwork
  4. Preparing silk

Mounting requires extreme care, for a wrong idea or an inexperienced hand will kill an artwork. What discusses here are basic techniques of how traditional wall scrolls of East Asia are made by hand. The pace of mounting is slow, which takes from several weeks to several months. The benefit of the handwork is that an old scroll can be taken apart and remounted while that mounted by machine can not.

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Master Art Gallery