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Chinese History - Arts of the Tang and Five Dynasties Periods

Periods of Chinese History
Three coloured earthenware camel statue, Tang period
Three coloured (sancai 三彩) earthenware camel statue with musicians, Tang period
Bodhisattva, Wall painting, Dunhuang, Tang
Bodhisattva, Wall painting of Dunhuang 敦煌, Tang period
Gold cup, Tang period
Gold cup, Tang period
Printing of the Dharani Sutra, Tang Period
Printing of the Dharani Sutra, Tang period
Calligraphy by Sun Guoting
Calligraphy by Sun Guoting 孫過庭
Great Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayanta), Xi'an/Shaanxi
Great Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayanta 大雁塔), Xi'an/Shaanxi

Cave Art

Dunhuang Caves 敦煌石窟
Longmen Caves 龍門石窟
The Giant Buddha of Leshan 樂山大佛


Buddhist sculpture had an important meaning to court sponsored monasteries and the believers. The main works of Dunhuang 敦煌石窟 and Yungang grottoes 雲崗石窟 were made under patronage of the Tang emperors, especially under empress Wu Zetian 武則天 (r. 684/690-704).



Painting followed the patterns of Jin period painting, especially picturing the court life and the activities of the aristocracy, spending their day on horseback. But we also find first examples of a crude landscape painting, showing small people among the high mountains. The most important painters of Tang are Yan Liben 閻立本, Wu Daozi 吳道子, Han Gan 韓幹, Guan Tong 關同, Zhou Wenduan 周文短, and Zhao Yan 趙巖 ; famous calligraphers were the monk Huaisu 僧懷素, Yu Shinan 虞世南, Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿, and Chu Suiliang 褚遂良. Books about painting were also written: the criticism Lidai minghua ji 歷代名畫記 "Reports on famous historical paintings" by Zhang Yanyuan 張彥遠, the calligraphy manual Shupu 書譜 "Notes on calligraphy" by Sun Guoting 孫過庭 , and the catalogue Tangchao minghua lu 唐朝名畫錄 "Famous Tang paintings" by Zhu Jingxuan 朱景玄. Landscape painting was refined during the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960), we have paintings preserved of Jing Hao 荊浩 and Guan Tong 關仝 from the north and Dong Yuan 董源 and Juran 巨然 from the southern empire of Nantang. Xu Xi 徐熙 and Huang Quan 黃筌, both from the south, started to paint birds and flowers, a genre that became very popular from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) on.



Already during the Jin Dynasty 晉 (265-420), ceramics (taoqi 陶器) and porcelain (ciqi 瓷器) had made great improvements and became widespread materials. Glazing of vessels had also became normal, while Han Dynasty 漢 (206 BC-220 AD) ceramics had only been painted. The one-colored ceramics of the time of political division were gradually replaced during Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907) by a three-colored painting (sancai 三彩), typcially with white ground, yellowish brown and dark green. Many ceramic items are shaped as horses or camels, some of the riders are definitely people from Inner Asia, showing the internationality of Tang society.
Gold and silver work was very popular under Tang because of Arabian and Persian influences. The patterns of the metal items clearly show Western influence.


The oldest existant buildings in China date from the Tang Dynasty. Unfortunately, only a few pagodas and halls still exist today, among them the two Wild-Goose pagodas (Dayanta 大雁塔 and Xiaoyanta 小雁塔) in Xi'an and the Great Hall of Nanchan Monastery 南禪寺 at Wutai Mountain 五台山 in Shanxi. Tang architecture can still be admired today in Korea and Japan where halls of monasteries have been rebuilt and reconstructed since Buddhism came from Tang China to these two countries, for example the Great Hall of Tōdaiji Monastery 東大寺 in Nara 奈良/Japan.



Basing upon the technique of impression sheets (rubbings), Buddhist monks were the first to use the block print to spread their sutras among the believers, the oldest existant block printed book dates from 868. But in the early 10th century, block print was also used by the court to propagate the Confucian classics.

2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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