China Arts and Architecture Part III

By | January 14, 2022

In the period of the Eastern Han (24-220) security problems led to the movement of the capital to Luoyang, while the techniques and ornamentation of bronze mirrors and the processing of silk fabrics evolved, through indirect communication with the Roman Empire. Following the tracks of the caravan route, but in the opposite direction, it began towards the 1st century. AD the penetration of Buddhism, as evidenced by the foundation in 68 of the Monastery of the White Horse (Baimasi), not far from the capital. As part of the increasingly complex ceramic production, the diffusion of figurines and funerary artifacts known as mingqi (“shining objects”, or “of the soul”), mainly in terracotta, was amplified; they document the material culture, customs and results of lost wooden architecture.

From the fall of the Han to the Sui

According to APARENTINGBLOG.COM, the political and cultural fragmentation, which characterized the long period from 220 to 581, is reflected in the various artistic manifestations of the various northern and southern courts which pursued diversified lines of development. The most relevant aspect, still perceptible in the North today, is given by the encounter with Buddhist art that reached Chinese territory through the Central Asian caravan routes, but also from the maritime ones, through the mediation of the regions of South Asia. -Oriental. In the 5th century, given the favor accorded to Buddhism by the Northern Wei (386-535), many of the precious plastic works in clay, but above all pictorial ones, were made, preserved in the Grottoes of the Thousand Buddhas of Mogao, near Dunhuang (Gansu), in which they were already working since the second half of the 4th century; from 460 onwards the first colossal sandstone statues in the main caves of the Yungang rock complex, near Datong (Shanxi), the capital of the Wei (at least until 493), with their massive volumes and rigid forms saw the light and hieratic of great power. After moving the capital to Luoyang, the rock complex of Longmen (Henan) began to be excavated from the limestone rock around 495; hundreds of caves, which date back to the 8th century, document the stylistic developments of Chinese Buddhist sculpture, also subjected to new Indian influences.

The South, on the other hand, in the context of the refined courts of the southern capital of Nanjing (Jiangsu), saw the flourishing, starting from the 4th century, of a pictorial production, almost entirely lost but recoverable through some fragments, later copies, more or less reliable, and the preservation of the writings of the time. A cautious comparative examination with artifacts from tombs, copies of some famous scrolls by the painter and theorist Gu Kaizhi (4th-5th century) and the reading of some treatises, especially the interpretation of the 6 canons of Xie He (16th century). 5 ° -6 °), allow us to reconstruct the salient aspects of painting between the 4th and 6th centuries, as well as of calligraphic art, which is also almost totally lost.

Tang period

The reunification between North and South by the Sui (581-618) will bear fruit under the Tang dynasty (618-907), an era of maximum artistic and cultural splendor. The ceramic manufactories progressed further in the elaborate lead glazing, passing through the delicate nuances of the Sui works, to arrive after the middle of the 7th century. to the famous sancai production (‘three-color’ ceramic) and the first porcelains (ci). Mirrors in bronze, silks, gold and silver artifacts, as well as clay production, document a cosmopolitanism open to Iranian and Western influences. Even the architecture and urban solutions of the capital, already set in the Sui era, testify to the magnificence of the Chang’an of the Tangs, with its sumptuous temples, the ordered road network and the scanning of the blocks symmetrically arranged in the bipartition given by the median north-south axis. Few surviving remains in Chinese territory, due to the traditional pre-eminent use of wood, and the examination of contemporary Japanese structures, or a little later, allow us to attempt an ideal reconstruction. Despite the significant restructuring and restoration interventions, the Dayanta (Great Wild Goose Pagoda) of ancient Chang’an, built in the mid 7th century. in masonry, with several floors sloping upwards, it remains a noble example of one of the most important types linked to Buddhism. In 672-75 the powerful figure of the central Buddha was sculpted with the group of monumental figures of the Fengxian temple in Longmen, while imposing if not always expressive, there are statues of large animals placed to protect the imperial tombs of the 7th-8th century, near Xianyang and Qianling (Shaanxi). The pictorial production rose to the highest levels, influencing other civilizations as well. In addition to later copies of lost masterpieces, works performed in Japan and literary evidence, there are wall paintings, but also silk paintings, by Dunhuang from the Sui to Tang times, including the period of Tibetan occupation in the area. (760-848), to document the variety of figurative solutions, to which must be added the ‘frescoes’ of excellent quality and inventive freshness of some imperial tombs; Finally, from the end of the Sui, the first examples of woodcut prints are worth mentioning.

China Arts and Architecture 3