Chinese Arts in Tang and Song Dynasties

By | October 18, 2021

In the period characterized by small states after the collapse of the Han Empire, Buddhism, which had reached China via the Silk Road since the middle of the 1st century AD, spread rapidly. In the 3rd century the Buddha and Bodhisattvas appeared in the decor of mirrors and as small gilded sculptures with an imprint reminiscent of Gandhara art. While hardly any examples of early Buddhist architecture have survived (four-gate pagoda in Jinan), the cave temples of Dunhuang(Gansu), Maiji Shan (Gansu), Yungang (Shanxi), which were built between the late 4th and 6th centuries, testify to, Longmen (Henan) and Tianlong Shan (Henan) as well as votive steles the spread of Buddhist art.

If the archaic style of sculpture and sculpture of the Northern Weidynasty (386–534) was characterized by “wet folds” and a flat-linear conception, in the sculpture of the Northern Qidynasty (550–577) influences of Gupta art came into their own a smoother, more sculptural style. The hard, porcelain-like, brownish or gray-green glazed stoneware Yueyao, which is considered to be the pre-form of the later celadon, was widely used. Sassanid and Central Asian-influenced vessel types and those with relief decorations of lions and chicken heads were popular. Apart from the wall paintings in tombs and in the Buddhist cave temples, a view of the painting is only possible through later copies (Gu Kaizhi [Ku K’ai-chih], * around 345, † around 406). When the first artistic personalities became tangible, she stepped out of the shadowy existence of an anonymous craft and was elevated to the rank of one of the four high arts of the elite alongside poetry, calligraphy and music. Calligraphy, which has emancipated itself from the anonymity of a pure means of communication since the 1st century AD and established itself as an independent art form, reacheda climaxwith the development of the expressive style of Wang Xizhi (Wang Hsi-chih, * around 307, † 365).

Tang Dynasty


Under the seaweed rulers, China, a country located in Asia according to, united by the Suidynasty (581–618), grew into a cosmopolitan empire, which was home to foreign traders and merchants, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Parsees and Manicheans in what was then the world’s largest metropolis, Chang’an (now Xi’an), recorded. The influences of foreign cultures, v. a. Sassanid, show the technically and artistically highly developed gold and silversmith’s art. The presence of foreigners is also reflected in the mostly three-color glazed (so-called Sansai glaze) grave figures, the numerous bearded, long-nosed camel drivers, musicians and dancers, but also in the caricature-like exaggerated physiognomies of the barbarian princes in the wall paintings in the tomb of Crown Prince Zhang Huai (Chang Huai). The tombs of Crown Prince Zhang Huai and Yi De (I-te) as well as Princess Yong Tai (Yung T’ai, early 8th century) in Qianxian show the scheme of a burial mound heaped with earth, resembling a capped pyramid. Grave paths and chambers are richly decorated with wall paintings (including depictions of hunts, Buddhist and Daoist temple processions, dancers and musicians), whereby the depth of the space is indicated by overlapping figures and landscape or architectural motifs. The wall paintings give an idea of ​​the works of the Tang masters, mostly known only from literary sources or later copies (Wu Daozi [Wu Tao-tzu], * about 680, † about 760; Yan Liben [Yen Li-pen), * around 600, † 673; Han Gan [Han Kan], * about 720, † after 780; Li Sixun [Li Ssu-hsün], * 651, † 716; Wang Wei, * 699, † 759). The art of writing flourished in the Tang Dynasty. In the informal fonts (concept and italics), the classical ideal which formulated by Yan Zhenqing (Yen Chen-ch’ing, * 709, † 785) and Emperor Xuanzong (tsung-Hsuan, * 685, † 762) was represented. In addition,an eccentric style developed with the works of the monk Huaisu.

The cave temples in Longmen and Dunhuang, which were continued in the Tang period, testify to the high level of Buddhist wall painting, sculpture and plastic. Apart from the large and small wild goose pagodas in Xi’an, only a few examples of Buddhist architecture have survived (e.g. temple on Mount Wutai Shan, 9th century), as there were numerous temples and shrines in the course of the Buddhist persecution (between 841 and 846) destroyed and bronze cult sculptures confiscated and melted down. However, the early Japanese works, which were still heavily influenced by Chinese models, provide an insight into the sculpture of the Tang period.

Song dynasty


After a period of partial statehood (Five Dynasties, 907–960), during which parts of northern China passed into the hands of the Kitan dynasty (Liao dynasty), the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) came to unification. The strengthening Jindynasty of the Jurds in the area of ​​today’s Manchuria drove the Song from their capital Kaifeng to the south in 1126. Lin’an (now Hangzhou) became the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279). Characteristic of the painting of the North Song period is the development of an independent landscape painting that corresponds to the specifically Chinese conception of nature and the world, which from then on was to form the most distinguished theme of Chinese painting. In northern China, the painters Li Cheng (Li Ch’eng, * 916, † 967?), Fan Kuan (Fan K’uan, * around 948, † 1027/1030), Yan Wengui (Yen Wen-kuei, * 967, † 1044), Xu Daoning (Hsü Tao-ning, active first half of the 11th century) and Guo Xi (Kuo Hsi, * around 1020, † around 1090) can be grasped as personalities in monumental, vertically composed landscapes, while the two main representatives of landscape art from southern China, Dong Yuan (Tung Yüan, † 962) and Ju Ran (Chü Jan, † around 980)wide atmospheric horizontal compositions can be ascribed.

Li Longmian (Li Lung-mien, * 1049, † 1106) was considered an important figure and horse painter of this time. In the painter emperor Huizong (Hui-tsung, * 1082, † 1135), the academy painting with natural, polychrome depictions of plants and animals and lyrical landscapes (Zhao Lingrang [Chao Ling-jang], active in the second half) was carried out by artists who specialize in subjects 11th century) a special sponsor. In contrast, the representatives of literary painting around the scholar and statesman Su Dongpo (Su Tung-p’o, * 1036, † 1101; also known as Su Shi [Su Shih]) and Mi Fu (Mi Fei, * 1051, † 1107) your personal expression in the monochrome ink game. Along with Huang Tingjian (Huang T’ing-chien, * 1045, † 1105), Ouyang Xiu (Ou-yang Hsiu, * 1007, † 1072) and Emperor Huizong, both were among the most important writers of the Northern Song Dynasty. Characteristic of the representatives of the painters Ma Yuan (Ma Yüan, * around 1150, † 1225) and Xia Gui (Hsia Kuei, † 1230) named Ma-Xia-Schule (Ma-Hsia-Schule) at the Academy in Hangzhou are compositions in which the representational of the landscape is concentrated in a lower corner of the picture (»Einckstil«) so that the unpainted emptiness takes up a large space. The intimate format of the album or fan sheet corresponds to the lyrical content of this landscape style. Su Hanchen (Su Han-ch’en, active in the first half of the 12th century) achieved a high reputation in the field of women and children. The great unconventional masters of painting, Liang Kai (Liang K’ai, * around 1140, † 1250) and Muxi (Mu-hsi, active around 1220–90), who settled in the monasteries on West Lake near Hangzhou, radically reduced the use of artistic means and thus achieved a concentrated expressiveness in their monochrome ink pictures. The ceramics experienced an artistic high point (celadon, tenmoku). Buddhist cult images were made from less expensive materials in wood, clay or dry varnish and were set in polychrome. Among the most important works are the Lohan figures created under the Kitan dynasty (Liaodynasty).

Chinese Arts in Tang and Song Dynasties