China Arts and Architecture Part IV

By | January 15, 2022

From the ‘Five Dynasties’ to Songs

The troubled period following the disastrous fall of the Tangs, commonly known as the ‘Five Dynasties’ (907-960), saw the first great masters of the landscape appearing on the pictorial scene, a genre already widely practiced but now achieving daring results in the spatial layout of the majestic natural scenarios, represented in mainly vertical scrolls, in rare cases arrived in the original. Virtuosos of calligraphic art and subtle genre painters contributed to the development of painting, while increasingly complex and multi-colored woodcuts were created. At the same time, states ruled by dynasties of foreign origin – first the Liao (907-1125) and then Jin (1125-1234) – were formed in the North – whose art is essentially linked to Buddhism, both in architecture and in bronze sculpture, ceramic,

According to CALCULATORINC.COM, the results of this articulated cultural ferment found their fullest expression in art, which flourished at the time of the Song dynasty and divided into two great moments: that of the Northern Song (960-1127) with Kaifeng (Henan) as its capital, and that of the Song southern (1127-1279) with capital Hangzhou (Zhejiang). The wooden sculpture, the lacquers, the metallics and the weaving still today count masterpieces of exquisite sensitivity, but it is in the ceramic production and in the pictorial and calligraphic one that the Song art has caught the happiest results; if the choroplastic imposes itself for the tactile value, the plastic sense of the shapes and decorations, together with the multiform shades and gradations of the porcelain, celadon and ceramics showcases, the art of the brush unfolds an exceptional repertoire of themes and modalities compositional, documented by a slightly larger number of originals. The Northern Song painters continued and perfected the ideas of the previous era, intensifying the relationship between the activity of philosophical-religious reflection and pictorial practice. The ‘painters-writers’ (wenren), in many cases very skilled calligraphers, ventured not only with the landscape, but also with themes related to bamboo and flowers and birds, creating works that will be models for subsequent generations. New paths were also taken by some of the best exponents of the Academy of painting, reconstituted in the mid-12th century. at the court of the Southern Songs, followed by the creations of painters linked to Chan Buddhism.

Yuan period

In the approximately 100 years of rule of the Mongols, who took the dynastic name of Yuan (1271-1368), artists and writers – largely dissenting – often came to a recovery of tradition, developing in some cases an accentuated archaism; if plastic, however, weakly repeated the Tang syntheses, painting and ceramics stand out for their high formal and expressive results. In addition to copies, several autographed works of the great masters Yuan have been preserved, in which it is possible to trace the stylistic path of the individual personalities; the vitality of Yuan painting is expressed in the themes of the landscape, the representation of horses (particularly loved by the Mongols), bamboo or plum blossoms, which often allude to the ability to endure difficult times, in view of the awakening of a pride national.

In ceramic production, in addition to celadon, in various shades of green, produced in Longquan (Zhejiang), exported to the eastern area and to western markets, the porcelain of Jingdezhen (Jiangxi), one of the most important centers in art ceramics up to the threshold of the 19th century; in the 14th century. qinghua porcelain, white and blue (in cobalt oxide below deck) were increasingly appreciated. Almost nothing remains of Khān bālīq, the capital of the Yuan, but with its foundation the center of imperial power and control moves north to the Beijing area.

Ming period

Initially, with the Ming Restoration (1368-1644), Nanjing once again became the capital of the empire for the last time (1356-1420); the underground tombs of the first Ming emperors and the imposing walls are preserved in the area. In the first quarter of the 15th century. the new capital, Beijing, was built with an orderly and regular plan, mighty walls, now disappeared, temples – such as the Tian Tan (“Temple of Heaven”, whose most famous building is the Qinian dian, the Pavilion of prayer for good collected, restored several times), with three overlapping circular terraces, connected by stairways and surrounded by marble balustrades, with the roof in blue tiles – and the complex of the Forbidden City (Gugong), arranged according to a north-south axis with the succession of sumptuous pavilions. A monumental shendao (street of the spirits) was arranged in the direction of the Ming imperial mausoleums, near Beijing; despite the grandeur of this work, on the whole the statuary reveals less vigor and power of expression than the results of Nanking. But the sublime work of the Ming period concerns the restoration of the Great Wall (Wanlicheng, “wall of the ten thousand li”) which took on the final aspect of military construction in brick and stone.

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