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Fan Kuan, "Traveling amid Streams and Mountains"

(National Palace Museum, Taipei )

Landscape painting got even better under the Sung Dynasty than it had been under the T'ang
Dynasty that came before. Artists emphasized the simple lines of the mountains, rivers, and trees,
trying to create a feeling with the fewest possible lines. Most of the time they didn't even use
colors. Artists also learned to show distance with blurry outlines and mountains half-hidden by
Cui Bai, "Two Jays and a Hare"
(National Palace Museum, Taipei)

Artists sometimes put people in their pictures, but the people were small and unimportant - what
really counted was nature. This idea was developed from Taoist and Confucian philosophical
ideas about how the world worked. It was important to these artists to show how nature and man
worked together in peace.

Wen Tong, "Branch of Bamboo"

(National Palace Museum, Taipei)

Starting about 1200 AD, artists became interested in drawing smaller objects: a flower, or a bird,
or a leaf. Again, they tried to draw these things using the fewest possible lines, and to show the
most important things about that flower or bird, rather than drawing every detail.
"Auspicious Dragon", said to be by Emperor Hui-Tsung
(Palace Museum, Bejing)

One of the artists who was best at painting flowers was the Emperor Hui-tsung. He opened a
school for painters, and many famous painters came from that school.

Another group of Sung Dynasty painters were Zen Buddhists, who tried to paint their ideas of
calm and peacefulness with quick, clean brushwork.

The boddhisatva Avalokitesvara, with a thousand arms

and a thousand eyes, about 950 AD (Musee Guimet, Paris )
Sung Dynasty dragon, in silver with gold and turquoise inlays (Musee Guimet, Paris)

Sung Dynasty vase (Musee Guimet, Paris)


You might think that the invasion of the Mongols in 1279 AD would have killed off a lot of
artists and there wouldn't be much good art during this time, but that's not true. Or, you might
think that Chinese artists would begin to paint in a more Mongol style, but that's not what
happened either. Actually traditional painting continued at a very high level throughout this time.
Artists went right on drawing landscapes, although people became more important in the
landscapes than they had been under the Sung Dynasty. Artists also began to pay a lot of
attention to different kinds of brushstrokes and the surface of paintings.

Still-life painting of objects like flowers also remained important, or even got more important.

At this time, a lot of rich men painted pictures, men who wanted to show how artistic and well-
educated they were.

Pottery also continued to develop during the Yuan dynasty.

After the Mongols were thrown out of China , and the Chinese emperors took over again in the
Ming Dynasty, sculpture stopped changing in style - Ming dynasty sculptors just repeated what
had been done in the past.

A Ming Dynasty painting of the emperor's palace

On the other hand, Ming Dynasty paintings of birds and flowers and people are among the best
detail paintings.
And Ming Dynasty pottery is famous for its excellence.
In this period, also, Chinese lacquer became much more creative and beautiful.