Chinese Works of Art

Chinese art is visual art that, whether ancient or modern, originated in or is practiced in China or by Chinese artists. Early "stone age" art dates back to 10,000 BC, mostly consisting of simple pottery and sculptures.

Chinese art has arguably the oldest continuous tradition in the world, and is marked by an unusual degree of continuity within, and consciousness of, that tradition, lacking an equivalent to the Western collapse and gradual recovery of classical styles. The media that have usually been classified in the West since the Renaissance, are extremely important in Chinese art, and much of the finest work was produced in large workshops or factories by essentially unknown artists, especially in the field of Chinese porcelain.

The two main techniques in Chinese painting are:

  • Gong-bi, meaning "meticulous", uses highly detailed brushstrokes that delimits details very precisely. It is often highly coloured and usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. It is often practiced by artists working for the royal court or in independent workshops.

  • Ink and wash painting, in Chinese Shui-mo, also loosely termed watercolor or brush painting, and also known as "literati painting", as it was one of the "Four Arts". In theory this was an art practiced by gentlemen, a distinction that begins to be made in writings on art from the Song dynasty,, though in fact the careers of leading exponents could benefit considerably. This style is also referred to as "xie yi" or freehand style.

Chinese Sculpture incudes Chinese ritual bronzes from the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties come from a period of over a thousand years from c. 1500, and have exerted a continuing influence over Chinese art. They are cast with complex patterned and zoomorphic decoration, but avoid the human figure, unlike the huge figures only recently discovered. The spectacular Terracotta Army was assembled for the tomb of the first emperor of a unified China from 221-210BCE, Qin Shi Huang, as a grand imperial version of the figures long placed in tombs to enable the deceased to enjoy the same lifestyle in the afterlife as when alive. Smaller figures in pottery or wood were placed in tombs for many centuries afterwards.

Native Chinese religions do not usually use cult images of deities, or even represent them, and large religious sculpture is nearly all Buddhist, dating mostly from the 4th to the 14th century, and initially using Greco-Buddhist models. Buddhism is also the context of all large portrait sculpture; in total contrast to some other areas in medieval China even painted images of the emperor were regarded as private. Imperial tombs have spectacular avenues of approach lined with real and mythological animals on a scale matching Egypt, and smaller versions decorate temples and palaces. Small Buddhist figures and groups were produced to a very high quality in a range.

Chinese ceramic (pottery) ware shows a continuous development since the pre-dynastic periods, and is one of the most significant forms of Chinese art. China is richly endowed with the raw materials needed for making ceramics. The first types of ceramics were made during the Palaeolithic era, and in later periods range from construction materials such as bricks and tiles, to hand-built pottery vessels fired in bonfires or kilns, to the sophisticated Chinese porcelain wares made for the imperial court. Most later Chinese ceramics, even of the finest quality, were made on an industrial scale, thus very few individual potters or painters are known. Many of the most renowned workshops were owned by or reserved for the Emperor, and large quantities of ceramics were exported as diplomatic gifts or for trade from an early date.

As well as porcelain, a wide range of materials that were more valuable were worked and decorated with great skill for a range of uses or just for display. Chinese jade was attributed with magical powers, and was used in the Stone and Bronze Ages for large and impractical versions of everyday weapons and tools. Later a range of objects and small sculptures were carved in jade, a difficult and time-consuming technique. Bronze, gold and silver, rhinoceros horn, Chinese silk, ivory, lacquer, cloisonne enamel and many other materials had specialist artists working in them.

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This site was last updated on Sunday September 25th 2016 at 3:07 pm