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The history of imperial art in ancient china

Aesthetic characteristics and artistic traditions Art as a reflection of Chinese class structure One of the outstanding characteristics of Chinese art is the extent to which it reflects the class structure that has existed at different times in Chinese history.

Up to the Warring States period 475—221 bcethe arts were produced by anonymous craftsmen for the royal and feudal courts. It is believed that during the Shang and early Zhou periods the production of ritual bronze s was exclusively regulated under the authority of the court, which could grant or withhold authorization for production by regional workshops among the various states or others who paid fealty to the court.

Under the careful regulation of court patrons in the Shang and Zhou periods, design features were shared among specialists working in the various media and were remarkably uniform from bronzes to lacquerwares to textiles.

  1. A Letter , record the hardships or emotions of common people.
  2. Zhang Zeduan is noted for his horizontal cityscape Along the River During Qingming Festival, which has been copied many times throughout Chinese history. One effect of the revolutions of the 20th century was the breaking down of the class barriers between amateur and professional.
  3. It is believed that during the Shang and early Zhou periods the production of ritual bronze s was exclusively regulated under the authority of the court, which could grant or withhold authorization for production by regional workshops among the various states or others who paid fealty to the court.
  4. This was the ethical , Confucian function of painting. Revolutionary for its time, his painting style influenced and inspired countless subsequent painters, such as Zhu Da, the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, and the modern masters Wu Changshuo and Qi Baishi.
  5. His paintings feature sharp brush strokes which are attributed to the sideways manner by which he held his brush.

During the Warring States period and the Han dynasty 206 bce—220 cethe growth of a landowning and merchant class brought new patrons. After the Han there began to emerge the concept of cultural practice as the product of the leisure of the educated gentry, many of whom were amateur practitioners of the arts of poetrymusiccalligraphyand, eventually, painting.

At this time a distinction began to arise between the lower-class professional and the elite amateur artist; this distinction would have a great influence on the character of Chinese art in later times. Gradually one tradition became identified with the artists and craftsmen who worked for the court or sold their work for profit.

The scholarly amateurs looked upon such people with some contemptand the visual arts of the literati became a separate tradition that was increasingly refined and rarefied to the point that, from the Song dynasty 960—1279 onward, an assumed awkwardness zhuo or understatement pingdan in technique was admired as a mark of the amateur and gentleman.

As a medium of highly individual expression, painting and calligraphy also became important media of exchange in a social economy where the giving of gifts was central to the building of an interpersonal network. One effect of the revolutions of the 20th century was the breaking down of the class barriers between amateur and professional.

During the Cultural Revolution of 1966—76, literati art and artists were denigrated and an emphasis was placed on anonymous, proletarian-made art like that of the Tang dynasty 618—907 and earlier.

Chinese art

The role of linearity in Chinese art Since the 3rd century ce, calligraphy, or writing as a fine art, has been considered supreme among the visual arts in China. Not only does it require immense skill and fine judgment, but it is regarded as uniquely revealing of the character and breadth of cultivation of the writer. It is believed that the appreciation and production of calligraphy requires lofty personal qualities and unusual aesthetic sensitivity.

The comprehension of its finer points is thought to require experience and sensibility of a high order. The Chinese painter uses essentially the same materials as the calligrapher—brush, inkand silk or paper —and the Chinese judge his work by the same criteria they use for the calligrapher, basically the vitality and expressiveness of the brush stroke itself and the harmonious rhythm of the whole composition. Painting in China is, therefore, essentially a linear art.

The painters of most periods were not concerned with striving for originality or conveying a sense of reality and three-dimensional mass through aids such as shading and perspective ; rather, they focused on using silk or paper to transmit, through the rhythmic movement of the brush stroke, an awareness of the inner life of things.

The aesthetics of line in calligraphy and painting have had a significant influence on the other arts in China. For more information about Chinese calligraphy, see Chinese calligraphy.

Characteristic themes and symbols In early times Chinese art often served as a means to submit to the will of heaven through ritual and sacrifice. Archaic bronze vessels were made for sacrifices to heaven and to the spirits of clan ancestors, who were believed to influence the living for good if the rites were properly and regularly performed.

For more information on ritual bronzes, see metalwork ; Chinese bronzes. Chinese society, basically agricultural, has always laid great stress on understanding the pattern of nature and living in accordance with it. The world of nature was seen as the visible manifestation of the workings of a higher power through the generative interaction of the yin-yang female-male dualism. As it developed, the purpose of Chinese art turned from propitiation and sacrifice to the expression of human understanding of these forces, in the form of painting of landscapes, bamboobirdsand flowers.

This might be called the metaphysicalDaoist aspect of Chinese painting. Particularly in early times, art also had social and moral functions. The earliest wall paintings referred to in ancient texts depicted benevolent emperors, sages, virtuous ministers, loyal generals, and their evil opposites as examples and warnings to the living. Portrait painting also had this moral function, depicting not the features of the subject so much as his or her character and role in society.

Court painters were called upon to depict auspicious and memorable events. This was the ethicalConfucian function of painting. High religious art as such is foreign to China. Popular folk religion was seldom an inspiration to great works of art, and Buddhismwhich indeed produced many masterpieces of a special kind, was a foreign import. Human relationships have always been of supreme importance in China, and a common theme of figure painting is that of gentlemen enjoying scholarly pursuits together or of the poignant partings and infrequent reunions that were the lot of officials whose appointments took them across the country.

Among the typical themes of traditional Chinese art there is no place for war, violence, the history of imperial art in ancient china nude, death, or martyrdom. For the most part, no theme would be accepted in traditional Chinese art that was not inspiring, noble either elevating or admonitoryrefreshing to the spirit, or at least charming. Nor is there any place in most of the Chinese artistic tradition for an art of pure form divorced from content: In the broadest sense, therefore, in a culture steeped in the rhetoric of metaphor and allegory and forever turning to nature as a source of reference, all traditional Chinese art is symbolicfor everything that is painted reflects some aspect of a totality of which the painter is intuitively aware.

History of Chinese art

At the same time, Chinese art is full of symbols of a more specific kind, some with various possible meanings. Bamboo suggests the spirit of the scholar, which can be bent by circumstance but never broken, and jade symbolizes purity and indestructibility. The dragonin remote antiquity perhaps an alligator or rain deity, is the benevolent but potentially dangerous symbol of the emperor; the crane symbolizes long life; and paired mandarin ducks symbolize wedded fidelity.

Critical to all artistic considerations was the belief that the energy and rhythm generated in artistic practice allied the practitioner with the ultimate source of that energy, drawn forth from earthly and heavenly sources and from the sacred Dao itself. Calligraphy and painting, especially, had the capacity to rejuvenate the artist or to damage him spiritually, according to the rightness of his practice and the character of the man.

As such, art was viewed in these terms and so, too, was the viewing of arttaking the artist as much into account as the artistic subject, with regard to erudition, moral character, and harmonic alignment with or alienation from the forces of nature.