China: The World’s Oldest Art

China: The World’s Oldest Art

As Chinese New Year approaches, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little peek at the world of painting in China, right?

Chinese art has been around since the stone age, actually, since 10,000 BC. Most of it was still in the form of sculpture and ceramic art. After that time, Chinese art was classified according to the reigning dynasty, and each dynasty usually lasted hundreds of years.

Chinese art is considered as the oldest art in the world. Not surprisingly, many of the names of Chinese artists in the early period were not recorded. In the world of painting, painters from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty mostly painted about humans. Not many people know, however, that the paintings that were later found by people were taken from the cemetery, and previously the paintings were protected with silk cloth and kept inside the walls of the tomb. The purpose of making this painting is to protect the people who are buried there and their spirits can immediately ascend to Heaven. There are also buts that paint the teachings of Confucius, apart from painting portraits of the dead.

New landscape paintings appeared in 907, and are known as the “Great age of Chinese landscape”. In northern China, many names of painters were recorded. They were Jong Hao, Li Cheng, Fan Kuan, and Guo Xi. These painters mostly painted towering mountains. Meanwhile, in southern China, there are the names Dong Yuan, Juran, and several other names that depict hills and rivers.

Buddhism then entered China around the First Century. In the 8th Century, this Chinese Art began to be heavily influenced by Buddhism. One of the painters from this period was Gu Kaizhi, who was born in Wuxi.

Gu took out 3 books on painting theory: On Painting, Introduction of Famous Paintings of Wei and Jin Dynasties, and Painting of Yuntai Mountain. According to him, to paint a human face, the most important thing is the eyes, because that is where the soul lies. Clothing and appearance are not important.

Three of Gu’s paintings have survived to this day, although they are only duplicates. Here are the paintings:

The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies

The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies

This painting illustrates 9 stories from a political satire about Empress Jia Nanfeng written by Zhang Hua. This painting was looted by British troops in 1900 and is still in The British Museum today. Unfortunately, there are 3 parts of this painting that are missing. Meanwhile, a duplicate of this painting is in the Palace Museum in Beijing, in complete condition.

Nymph of the Luo River

Nymph of the Luo River

This painting illustrates a poem written by Cao Zhi. There are 3 duplicates of this painting made during the Song Dynasty. One of the duplicates is in the Palace Museum as well, the other is in the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. the third duplicate was brought to Manchuria by the last emperor in China, Pu Yi, when he was made a puppet emperor by the Japanese. When Japan surrendered in 1945, the duplicate of this painting disappeared, and was only found again 10 years later by the Liaoning Province Museum.

China: The World's Oldest Art

Wise and Benevolent Women

A duplicate of this painting was made in the 13th Century, and like the two paintings above, is now in the Palace Museum in Beijing. The painting, which consists of 10 sections and is 5 meters long, illustrates women in the Biography of Exemplary Women during the Han Dynasty.

Nowadays, Chinese art has certainly developed a lot. The ancient Chinese culture has entered the new media art, and Contemporary Chinese art emerged since 1980 as a result of the Cultural Revolution in China. Some of these modern Chinese artists are also very well-known in the international world. Not only Ai Weiwei, but there are many other artists. In fact, there is a female Chinese artist, Christine Wang, who has now moved to New York City and was once the curator for the Venice Biennial in Italy and is also on the UNESCO list because of her work.

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