ART OF CHINA III – T’ang and Song Dynasties

Depictions of Bodhisattvas during the Tang Dynasty: Left: Chinese Tang /Song Dynasty carving of Guanyin, the Buddhist image of bodhisattva associated with compassion. Center: Statue of Maitreya (240 cm tall) sculpted during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian (625-705), and originally located in the grottoes of Longmen. Right: A Tang dynasty sculpture of a Bodhisattva carved in sandstone during the first half of the 8th century and found at Cave 14 in Tianlongshan, Shanxi Province (China), (Tokyo National Museum).

In the time of the Tang emperors, Buddhism became widespread and representations of Buddha experienced another change due to the contributions from the Hindu style of the Gupta probably as a consequence of the famous journey of the Chinese monk Hiang-tson, who returned from India in the year 644. The entirely dressed silhouettes of the previous era were replaced by figures with naked torsos and twisting bodies. The great figures of the lokapala* and dvarapala, guardian geniuses of the temples, appeared showing great variety and were portrayed in energetic or violent attitudes, while the iconography of the bodhisattvas continued to evolve, especially of Maitreya* and Guanyin*, buddhic figures representing Sapience and Mercy.

Bronze figurines from the Tang dynasty: Top Left: A small gilt-bronze* figure of Buddha from the Tang dynasty. Top Center: A gilt-bronze figure of Guanyin Bodhisattva from the Tang dynasty. Bottom: A pair of Guanyin statues in gilt bronze (ca. 650 and 800 AD). These statues show a slender figure and a characteristic hourglass-shape with somewhat feminized bodies that became more pronounced over the coming years. Right: A Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) from the 8th century. This Bodhisattva can be identified as Avalokiteshvara thanks to the small sculpture of a Buddha on his headdress and by the vessel he holds in his right hand (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Depictions of Buddha during the Tang Dynasty: Top left: Stele of the Buddha Maitreya from 687 AD in limestone (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco). Top center: Seated figure of Maitreya Buddha in cave 275 from Northern Liang (397-439 AD), one of the earliest caves of the Mogao cave complex (Gansu province, China). The crossed ankle figure with a three-disk crown shows influence from the art of the Kushana. Bottom: Statue of seated Buddha from the early 7th century. The position of Buddha’s arms suggests that this sculpture represents Amitabha, a celestial Buddha who presides over his Western Paradise. This particular sculpture was made using the dry-lacquer* technique, in which a core, often in wood, was covered with clay and then wrapped in layers of cloth that have been saturated with lacquer*, a tree resin that hardens when exposed to oxygen. As many as seven or eight additional layers of lacquer were probably applied. In the 8th century, this technique spread from China to Japan, where it was used widely in the production of Buddhist sculptures (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Right: The Southern Colossal statue of Buddha Maitreya located in the Cave 96 of the Mogao cave complex also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, a system of 492 temples located at the southeast of the center of Dunhuang in Gansu province (China). The statue was sculpted in 695 AD during the High to Late Tang Dynasty. This statue is the tallest one of two giant statues at 35.5 mt high and was severely damaged during an earthquake, as a consequence it had been repaired and restored multiple times, and so its clothing, color and gestures had been changed and only the head retains its original Early Tang appearance.
The Leshan Giant Buddha, begun in 713 and completed in 803, is a 71 mt (233 ft) tall stone statue built during the Tang dynasty. It depicts seated Buddha as Maitreya with his hands resting on his knees. His shoulders are 28 mt wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person. The statue was carved out of a cliff of red sandstones located at the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province (China), near the city of Leshan, hence its name. It is the largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.
Above and Below: Two views of the Fengxian cave of the Longmen Grottoes ( Henan province, China). Its name means “the Ancestor Worshipping Cave” and was carved between 672 and 676 AD. It is the largest of all caves of the Grottoes complex. Its carvings are recognized as the ultimate in architectural perfection of the Tang dynasty. The shrine inside the cave measures 39 x 35 mt. This cave has the largest Buddha statue at the Longmen Grottoes (17.14 mt high) known as Vairocana Buddha. An inscription at the base of this figure identifies 676 as the year of carving. The main Vairocana Buddha’s features are plumpish and of peaceful and natural expression and is considered as the quintessence of Buddhist sculpture in China. It is said that empress Wu Zetian donated a big amount of resources to complete this temple. Hence, it has been conjectured that the Vairocana Buddha was carved to resemble the Empress herself and termed a “Chinese Mona Lisa, Venus or as the Mother of China”. The sculptural ensemble also includes statues of Kasyapa and Ananda, the two principal disciples of Vairocana, and of two Bodhisattvas with crowns flanking the main statue, accompanied by other numerous images of lokapalas (guardians or heavenly kings), dvarapalas (temple guards), flying devas and other figures.

Plan of Stupa 1 at Sanchi. The Great stupa has a large hemispherical dome which is flat at the top and crowned by a triple umbrella or Chattra on a pedestal surrounded by a square railing.

The typical pagoda evolved from the basic type of the bulb-shaped Hindu stupa which was transformed and adopted cubic or polyhedral forms or even took the form of a high tower of stone or brick with numerous levels and overlapping roofs which is the type most commonly used. This overlapping of the roofs is the evolution, by multiplication and growth, of the three small parasols (triple umbrella or Chattra*) or superimposed sunshades that we can still see in the stupa number 1 of Sanchi from the India of the Mauryan period from around the 2nd century BC. The tower architecture of the Han dynasty period has also been proposed as influential in the development of the full-fledged Chinese pagoda. The earthenware models of Chinese towers from the Han period predate both Buddhist influences and the fully developed pagoda-style.

Pagodas of the Tang dynasty: Left: The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, built between 707–709 (Xi’an, Shaanxi, China) in the site of the old Han and Tang capital Chang’an. This Pagoda was built during the Tang dynasty under Emperor Zhongzong of Tang. Originally, this pagoda stood 45 m tall (147 ft) until the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake which damaged it and caused it to stood at a height of 43 m (141 ft) with fifteen levels. The pagoda has a brick frame built around a hollow interior, and its square base and shape reflect the building style of other pagodas from the time. Second from Left: The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (southern Xi’an, Shaanxi, China), built in 652 during the Tang dynasty and later repaired by orders of Empress Wu Zetian in 704, its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming dynasty. It originally had five stories. One of this pagoda’s many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of Gautama Buddha that were brought to China from India by the 7th century Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator Xuanzang. Today, the interior walls of the pagoda feature engraved statues of Buddha by the renowned artist Yan Liben. Third from Left: The Daqin Pagoda (Zhouzhi County of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China), built in 640.The pagoda has been controversially claimed as a Nestorian* Christian church from the Tang Dynasty. Daqin is the ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empire or, depending on context, the Near East, especially Syria. An earthquake severely damaged the pagoda in 1556 and it was finally abandoned. Due to the earthquake, many of the underground chambers of the complex are no longer reachable. The seven-stories octagonal brick pagoda is ca. 32 mt high. Each side of the first storey measures 4.3 mt. Right: The Pagoda of the Baoguang Temple (Xindu district, Sichuan province, China), built between 862-888. The temple’s pagoda is the only part of the temple that still dates from the Tang dynasty. This pagoda has a squared floor plan and includes 13 levels reaching a total height of 30 mt. The inside of the pagoda is completely solid. Its upper floors have upturned eaves, with copper bells hanging from them. The top of the pagoda is gold-plated, and each of the four sides of every floor has an image of the Buddha inlaid in gold.

The terracotta figures that have been found in the luxurious tombs of this period formed numerous entourages which included the deceased’s animals (horses, camels, yaks) and a great variety of characters and even unreal beings. Typical of all this funerary culture is an intense naturalism of classical taste and wonderful colors that sometimes didn’t cover the figures in their entirety, especially when the terracotta figures were of big dimensions. The glaze of the T’ang period continued using the pearly and iridescent shades of the plumbiferous varnish that were used since the Han dynasty and added some simple colors: green (by the addition of copper), yellow and brown (by adding iron), and blue (by adding cobalt). With these few elements Chinese potters performed wonders. They masterfully placed these three colors in powerful spots and even allowed the glaze to flow over the surface of the piece forming drips.

Tang-period Terracotta animal figures found in tombs (from Top to Bottom and from Left to Right): Glazed bull (Musée Guimet, Paris); a Sancai* style horse and figurine; a Lion figure (Museum Rietberg, Zürich); a loaded camel with rider (Museum Rietberg, Zürich); a Sancai style glazed pottery horse from the 7th-8th century; a pair of earth spirits or Tomb Guardians, ca. 618 – 907 AD (City Museum, Luoyang), these fantastical tomb guardians are chimeras, the guardian with flower ears and a human face is perhaps a vegetation god who represents the promise of regeneration from the earth; a green-glazed pottery dog, this piece comes from the Eastern Han period ca. 25-220 AD (Shanghai Museum); two Sancai style glazed horses and groom, ca. 728 AD, found at the tomb of the general Liu Tingxun; figure of a horse with a carefully sculpted saddle, decorated with leather straps and ornamental fastenings featuring eight-petalled flowers and apricot leaves, ca. 618 – 907 AD found at Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.
Tang-period Terracotta figures of horse riders and model houses found in tombs (from Left to Right): Tang dynasty tomb figures of Liu Tingxun: two earth spirits in front, two lokapala behind; figure of a woman playing polo, ca. first half of the 8th century (Musée Guimet, Paris); Tang Pottery Horse and Rider (Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xi’an); a Sancai style model of a house set around a courtyard (Shaanxi History Museum), this model was excavated from a Tang Dynasty tomb at Zhongbu village in the western suburbs of Xi’an City, this model is decorated with complicated designs.
Tang-period Terracotta human figures found in tombs I (from Top to Bottom and from Left to Right): A Tomb guardian (Wushi yong) from the 7th to early 8th century (Cernuschi Museum, Paris); a Dancing girl (wuyong), ca. 8th century AD (Liebieghaus Museum, Frankfurt); a figure of a warrior from Duan’s Tomb in Shaanxi; a Foreign dancer (Huren wu yong), (Cernuschi Museum, Paris); figure of a civil official dressed in Hanfu*, with a tall hat, wide-sleeved belted outer garment, and rectangular “kerchief*” in front. A white inner gown hangs over his square shoes. He holds a tablet to his chest representing a report to his superiors, it was excavated at Xi’an (Shaanxi Province); a figure of a Sogdian merchant, ca. 7th-century.
A set of Chinese Zodiac figures (Shiershengxiao) depicting the animals of the Chinese zodiac (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig), (Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an).
Tang-period Terracotta human figures found in tombs II (from Top to Bottom and from Left to Right): A fashionably-dressed female attendant of the early, slender, type of the Tang dynasty (Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an); a court lady with elaborate sprigged dress (Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an), this seated musician wears an elaborately decorated dress and peaked hairstyle, her instrument was probably a set of panpipes (paixiao); a Lokapala guardian figure or Tomb Guardian (Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an), this mythological guardian, armed like a warrior and glazed in jewel-like colors, triumphs over an earth spirit at his feet, his head is crowned by projecting horns and phoenix, a combination that identifies him as a tomb guardian of the southern quarter, these figures were usually placed around the entrance to the tomb chamber or around the coffin; a pair of unglazed lokapala figures; three Sancai style falconers, ca. 7th century.
Pottery of the Tang dynasty I (from Top to Bottom and from Left to Right): A Sancai-glazed pottery censer from the Tang Dynasty, this flaring dish with flat, everted rim is raised on five molded supports, each surmounted by a horned bird head, and the base is formed as a low ring; an unusual blue and Sancai-glazed pottery censer; a Sancai-glazed pottery jar; a Sancai-glazed pottery tripod jar, this globular jar is supported on three modeled animal legs; a Sancai rhyton with duck’s head (Gansu Provincial Museum), the handle of this Sancai-glazed cup is shaped like a duck’s curving neck and head, whose feathers extend onto the body of the cup, the duck is grooming the fluff of its stomach with its beak, the cup’s design may have been inspired by contact with rhytons, those animal-headed Western drinking-cups encountered along the Silk Road*.
Pottery of the Tang dynasty II (from Top to Bottom and from Left to Right): A Sancai-glazed pottery jar from the Tang dynasty; an ewer from the late 7th century, brilliantly colored in Sancai style, these artifacts were widely used in funerary goods in the late 7th and the first half of the 8th century, the shape of this ewer derives from the metalwork of the ancient Iranian world and illustrates the impact of trade along the famed Silk Road; a very rare Sancai-glazed pottery phoenix-head ewer; a Sancai-glazed pottery jar vase; a blue-glazed pottery jar and cover; a Sancai-glazed pottery amphora; a Sancai-glazed ewer; a Sancai-glazed pottery amphora.
Pottery of the Tang dynasty III. Left: Small rounded plate with floral decoration, ca. 8th-9th centuries in Sancai style (Musée Guimet, Paris). Right: A rounded ceramic offering plate with Sancai glaze and incised decoration, 8th century (Musée Guimet, Paris).

The low reliefs in stone, like those of the tomb of Tai Tsung (died in 648), the second emperor T’ang, also reflect the classic solemnity of the period.

The Six Steeds of Zhao Mausoleum are six stone reliefs of horses (1.7 x 2.0 mt each) from the Tang dynasty. They were originally located in the Zhao Mausoleum in Shaanxi, China. The Zhao Mausoleum was the resting place of the Emperor Taizong of Tang (reigned between 626-649). By tradition the reliefs were designed by the court painter, and administrator for public works, Yan Liben, and they are so flat and linear that it seems they were probably carved after drawings or paintings. The horses represented or steeds were six precious war horses of Taizong, which he rode during the early campaigns to reunify China under the Tang, and all bear names which are not Chinese but rather transliterations of Turkic or Central Asian terms, indicative of the horses’ probable origin as gifts or tributes from the Tujue to the Tang forces. These reliefs are regarded as treasures of ancient Chinese art (two of them in the Penn Museum at University of Pennsylvania, USA and the other four in the Stele Forest of the museum of Xi’an). The panel relief depicted on the right represents a soldier and the emperor’s horse, “Autumn Dew”, with elaborate saddle and stirrups.

The T’ang era was brilliant in other ways: it was the time of the invention and first development of the printing press that contributed to the application of the preliminary examinations for the exercise of public office which acquired all their complexity and importance. During this period, ceramics also flourished with great brilliance and in doing so a very important event took place: the discovery of porcelain*, a media that will be brought to its greatest perfection during the following era, that of the Song Dynasty, but that in the times of the T’ang stood out for its elegant shapes and incised decoration under white varnish. The art of calligraphy, estimated since the times of the Han as the mean par excellence to express the moral and intellectual virtues that should represent the literate man, came to greatly encourage the development of painting on silk or paper. Nothing is preserved of what was done by the painter Wu-Tao-tseu, renowned in the writings of the time, nor of Li Seu-hsun who was honored by the emperor with an appointment as general; but there are works by his son, the landscape painter Li Zhaodao, and the paintings of characters made by Yeu-Li-pan (Yan Liben, died in 673), whose style was based on a delicate use of shading and tonal gradation as means for enhancing the fineness of his drawings.

Porcelains form the Tang dynasty: Left: A porcelain vase with incised decoration of peonies and vive spouts, an example of a green-glazed Yue ware of the Tang period, ca. 900 AD . Middle: Chinese ewer from the Tang dynasty (Honolulu Museum of Art). Right: A green ware vase with floral decoration from Zhejiang province (Ashmolean Museum).
The Emperor Minghuang’s Journey to Shu, a painting attributed to Li Zhaodao (early 8th century), ink and color on silk, 55.9 x 81 cm. This painting depicts what happened in the An Lushan Rebellion that took place in the Tianbao era of the Tang dynasty. Before rebel troops captured the capital of Chang’an (Xi’an), Emperor Minghuang (Xuanzong) escaped the chaos by taking an imperial journey to Shu (Sichuan). Historical records mention that the entourage crossed small bridges below lofty cascades on narrow plank paths so frightening that even the horses feared to go. Such a scene is depicted here, in which the red-robed figure is none other than Emperor Minghuang (National Palace Museum, Taipei and Taibao, Chiayi County, Taiwan).
Paintings from the Tang dynasty: Top Left: The Emperor Wu of Jin a fragment from the Thirteen Emperors Scroll, a Tang Dynasty painting in ink and color on silk attributed to Yan Liben (600–673) featuring thirteen emperors from former dynasties (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Top Center: The Emperor Wen of Chen from the Thirteen Emperors Scroll (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Bottom Left: The Emperor Taizong (reigned between 626–649) receives Gar Tongtsen Yülsung, ambassador of the Tibetan Empire, at his court, a later copy of an original painted in 641 by Yan Liben. Bottom Center: Bodhisattva Leading the Way, painting on silk (80.5 x 53.8 cm), by an anonymous painter. The image was discovered at Dun Huang in the cave 17 of the “1000 Buddha caves”. It represents bodhisattva leading a woman to the Pure Land on the golden cloud in the upper left corner. His right hand contains an incense burner. His left hand contains a lotus flower (British Museum, London). Right: Travelers in Spring Mountains, attributed to Li Zhaodao.

Some sheets of paper and scrolls of silk found in the funeral grottoes of Tuen Huang allow us to imagine the splendor of these paintings that have disappeared almost completely: characters of high rank were represented with horses luxuriously harnessed, the lines were clear and the free and safe application of the simple red and green colors gave a lively and funny air to the compositions.

When the T’ang dynasty fell in 906 another period of political division took place and for more than fifty years five dynasties reigned amidst disturbances in the great plain of the North, while the South disintegrated into ten kingdoms. Finally, in 960 the Song dynasty was established in Kaifong (Honan) which reunified the country and would reign for a long period, although not without serious difficulties such as those that represented the occupation of part of North China during the first half of the twelfth century by Tatars and Turks, which forced the Song emperors to move the capital to Hang-tcheu.

Under the Song dynasty, even in spite of the political difficulties in the country, Chinese culture experienced great progress. Buddhism was subjected to severe repression and its monks took refuge in the monasteries, mainly those of the Ch’an sect, better known in the West under the Japanese pronunciation Zen (introduced in China during the 6th century by the Hindu monk Bodhidharma), while the aristocrats and cultured men were interested again in the doctrine of Confucius which prepared the triumph of the Neo-Confucianism during the thirteenth century.

The ceramics reached great excellence, especially the porcelains with elegant shapes and an inspired incised or painted ornamentation usually with floral themes. The green-gray colored vessels were very common and later became famous in Europe (the vases céladon* highly celebrated in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). The architecture was renewed: from this time date many of the pailous* or monumental portals of the urban enclosures with their overlapping roofs, in the buildings the roof angles curved upward and in general the constructions grew in verticality while its decoration increased.

Vases céladon of the Song dynasty (from Top to Bottom and from Left to Right): Longquan celadon wares (13th century) (Musée Guimet, Paris); carved and incised ewer with chicken-head spout, a distinctive type in Yue ware (Northern Celadon style), ca. 960; a small celadon style tripod from Yaozhou in Shaanxi, dated to the late 10th century; bowl with carved design, Northern Song; statuette of a lion, from Yaozhou, Northern Song; Yaozhou ware celadon-style bowl, Song dynasty, 10th-11th century (Musée Guimet, Paris); bowl with carved and combed decoration, Northern Song (Musée Guimet, Paris).
Architecture during the Song dynasty: Top Left: The Beisi Pagoda or North Temple Pagoda (Bao’en Temple in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China). The base of the pagoda has an octagonal frame, and the tower rises nine stories reaching a total height of 76 mt (249 ft). The pagoda was once eleven stories tall, but was damaged and reduced to nine stories. Its base and outside walls are made of brick, the balustrades made of stone, and the eaves and banisters encircling the structure are made of wood. Although rebuilt during the Ming dynasty, the Beisi Pagoda’s frame was designed between 1131 and 1162 during the Song period. Top Center: The Liaodi Pagoda of Hebei, built in 1055 under the Northern Song (Kaiyuan Monastery, Dingzhou, Hebei Province, China), it is the tallest existing pre-modern Chinese pagoda and tallest brick pagoda in the world. It stands at a height of 84 mt (276 ft), resting on a large platform with an octagonal base. Top Right: External view of the Temple of the Saintly Mother (Jinsi, Taiyuan), built in 1032. Bottom Left: The Trinity Hall of Xuanmiao Temple at Suzhou. Bottom right: A city gate (pailou) of Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, built in 1223 during the Song Dynasty.

The Song emperors protected the paintings made in traditional styles and at the end of the 11th century Emperor Huizong personally distinguished himself as the author of compositions with birds and flowering branches. But apart from this academic art, there was a progressive painting which cultivated a form of panoramic landscape conceived vertically and painted on either silk or paper with Chinese ink, sometimes with slight polychrome touches. The masters of this type of painting were: Jing Hao, Dong Yuan, Yu-Kien and especially Li Tang. Another interesting group included Mu-hi or Leang-kai, followers of the Ch’an sect and as monks cloistered in their monasteries. Their paintings made in the technique of ink wash paper or sumi-e*, denoted acute sensitivity with some flashes of modernity that surprises us even to this day.

Painting during the Song dynasty I, landscapes: Top Left: The Xiao and Xiang Rivers by Dong Yuan (10th century) (Palace Museum, Beijing). Center Left: Wind in Pines Among a Myriad of Valleys by Li Tang. Center Middle: Travelers in a Snowy Landscape by Jing Hao (Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City). Center Right: Mount Kuanglu by Jing Hao, hanging scroll, ink on silk, 185.9 x 106.8 cm (National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan). Bottom Left: Detail from the painting Xiao and Xiang Rivers by Dong Yuan (10th century) (Palace Museum, Beijing). Bottom Center: Wintry Groves and Layered Banks by Dong Yuan. Bottom Right: River bank by Dong Yuan (ca. 934–962). Right: The Building of the Paradise of the Immortals in the Mountain, attributed to Dong Yuan, middle of the 10th century, color and ink on silk, hanging scroll of 183,2 x 121,2 cm (National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan).
Part of a scroll with calligraphy painted by Emperor Huizong of Song, representing Cranes, ca. 1112.
Painting during the Song dynasty II, animals: Top Left: A Pigeon on a Peach Branch, 12th century, by Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. Top Right: The Five Color Parakeet, a painting in ink and color on silk, attributed to Emperor Huizong of Song, early 12th century (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Bottom Left: Golden Pheasant and Cotton Rose Flowers, by Emperor Huizong of Song. Bottom Center: White Eagle, attributed to Emperor Huizong of Song (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia). Bottom Right: Plum and Birds by Emperor Huizong of Song.
Painting during the Song dynasty III, people: Top Left: The Duke Wen of Jin Recovering His State a painting attributed to Li Tang (ca. 1140) from the Song dynasty. It shows the return of Chong’er from exile to the state of Jin. He became Duke Wen and reigned from 636 to 628 BC. Top Center: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, a painting in silk by Emperor Huizong of Song (early 12th century). It is the only extant copy of a lost original by Chinese artist Zhang Xuan. The painting depicts an annual imperial ceremony of silk production, held in spring. It shows three groups of court ladies at work. The fragment showed here represents a group of four ladies pounding the silk with wooden poles (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Right: Li Bai Strolling, a painting by Liang Kai (ca. 1140-1210) a Chinese painter of the Southern Song dynasty. He is mostly known for developing the “Xie Yi” (sometimes translated as “sketch style”) of painting. Bottom Left: Ting Qin Tu (literally “Listening to the Qin”) painting by Emperor Huizong of Song. Bottom Second from Left: Shakyamuni Emerging from the Mountains, by Liang Kai, a hanging scroll in ink and color on silk, 117.6 x 51.9 cm (Tokyo National Museum). Bottom third from Left: Drunken Celestial by Liang Kai, this painting depicts an immortal, with his chest and abdomen exposed, as he seemingly strides forward, except for the few fine outlines to suggest the facial features, ears, and chest, the rest of the figure is rendered with large swaths of wet ink. Bottom fourth from Left: The Sixth Patriarch Cutting Bamboo by Liang Kai.
Sculpture during the Song Period: One of the most revered Buddhist deities, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (also known as Guanyin in Chinese) is an enlightened being who remains in the material world to aid in the salvation of all mortals. During the Song dynasty he was portrayed as a princely figure wearing a tiered crown bedecked with jewels and richly clothed in light, diaphanous silks. The relaxed pose, known as “royal ease”, is derived from the pre-Buddhist Indian royalty. Usually, these wooden painted figures of bodhisattvas lean on one arm, their knee raised to rest their extended free arm. These sculptures were represented still and composed, but with a sense of flowing movement amid the swirls of silk and soft scarves that appear to ruffle and sway. Left: The Bodhisattva Kuan-yan (Guanyin), Northern Song dynasty, China, ca. 1025, in wood (Honolulu Academy of Arts). Center: Standing Bodhisattva, Song dynasty, 12th century, painted wood (Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA). Right: Seated Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin), wood and pigment, 11th century, from the Shanxi province, Northern Song dynasty (St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, USA)


Celadon: A term for pottery denoting both wares glazed in the jade green celadon color, also known as greenware and a type of transparent glaze, often with small cracks, that was first used on greenware, but later used on other porcelains. Celadon originated in China, though the term is purely European, and notable kilns such as the Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province are renowned for their celadon glazes. Celadon production later spread to other parts of East Asia, such as Japan and Korea as well as Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand. Finer pieces are in porcelain, but both the color and the glaze can be produced in stoneware and earthenware. For many centuries, celadon wares were highly regarded by the Chinese Imperial court, before being replaced in fashion by painted wares, especially the new blue and white porcelain under the Yuan dynasty. The similarity of the color to jade, traditionally the most highly valued material in China, was a large part of its attraction.

Chattra: (From Sanskrit meaning “umbrella”). An auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism culture and traditions.

Dry-lacquer: (In Japanese “Kanshitsu”). A technique of Chinese and Japanese sculpture and decorative arts in which a figure or vessel is made using many layers of hemp cloth soaked with lacquer, the surface details being subsequently modeled with a mixture of lacquer, sawdust, powdered clay stone, and other materials.

Gilt-bronze: (Also known as “Ormolu”, from French for ground or pounded gold). The gilding technique of applying finely ground, high-carat gold–mercury amalgam to an object of bronze. The term also refers to objects finished in this way. The French refer to this technique as “bronze doré“; in English, it is known as “gilt bronze”.

Guanyin: Or Guan Yin is the most commonly used Chinese translation of the bodhisattva known as Avalokiteśvara. Guanyin is the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion. The Chinese name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means “[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.”


Hanfu: Terms that collectively refers to the ancient Chinese clothing or the historical clothing styles of China, particularly those before the Qing dynasty. The Han Chinese historically wore a robe or a shirt for the upper garment, while the lower garment was commonly a pleated skirt. Since the Han dynasty, Chinese clothing had developed varied styles and exquisite textile techniques, particularly on silk, and absorbed favorable elements in foreign cultures.


Kerchief: (From the French couvre-chef, “head cover”). Also known as a bandana or bandanna, is a triangular or square piece of cloth tied around the head or neck for protective or decorative purposes.



Lokapāla: (From the Sanskrit and Pāli meaning “guardian of the world”). Term that has different uses depending on whether it is found in a Hindu or Buddhist context. In Hinduism, lokapāla refers to the Guardians of the Directions associated with the eight, nine and ten cardinal directions. In Buddhism, lokapāla refers to the Four Heavenly Kings, and to other protector spirits, whereas the Guardians of the Directions are referred to as the “dikpālas”.

Maitreya: Term that refers to the future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology. In some Buddhist literature, such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he is referred to as Ajita. According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor to the present Buddha, Gautama Buddha.

Nestorian church: Also known as the Church of the East or the Persian Church. It was a Christian church of the East Syriac rite established ca. 410. It was one of three major branches of Eastern Christianity that arose from the Christological controversies of the 5th and 6th centuries, alongside the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Pailou: (Also known as Paifang). A traditional style of Chinese architectural arch or gateway structure. Evolved from Indian-subcontinent’s Torana through the introduction of Buddhism to China, it has developed many styles and has been introduced to other East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

Porcelain: (From the old Italian porcellana meaning “cowrie shell” referring to its resemblance to the surface of a shell). A ceramic material made by heating materials, generally including kaolin, in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400 °C (2,200 and 2,600 °F). The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain, relative to other types of pottery, arises mainly from vitrification and the formation of the mineral mullite within the body at these high temperatures. Porcelain slowly evolved in China and was finally achieved (depending on the definition used) at some point about 2,000 to 1,200 years ago, then slowly spread to other East Asian countries, and finally Europe and the rest of the world. Its manufacturing process is more demanding than that for earthenware and stoneware, the two other main types of pottery, and it has usually been regarded as the most prestigious type of pottery for its delicacy, strength, and its white color. Porcelain is also referred to as china or fine china in some English-speaking countries, as it was first seen in imports from China.

Sancai: (From Chinese, literally meaning “three colours”). A versatile type of decoration on Chinese pottery using glazes or slip, predominantly in three colors: brown (or amber), green, and a creamy off-white. It is particularly associated with the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and its tomb figures, appearing around 700. Therefore, it is commonly referred in Chinese as Tang Sancai. Tang sancai wares were sometimes referred in China and the West as egg-and-spinach by dealers, for their use of green, yellow, and white. It uses lead-glazed earthenware, and although two firings were needed, it was easier and therefore cheaper to make than Chinese porcelain or celadon, and suitable for making large figures, if necessary made up of several molded sections assembled after a first firing. The white may come from the natural color of the fired clay, sometimes coated with a transparent glaze, or there may be a white slip. The brown and green colors came from adding metal oxides to a lead glaze, and in fact blues and blacks are also found. The blue came from adding imported cobalt, and was therefore more expensive and used sparingly, often on smaller pieces.

Silk road: The Silk Road was a network of trade routes which connected the East and West, and was central to the economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between these regions from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century. The Silk Road primarily refers to the land routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning in the Han dynasty in China (207 BCE–220 CE). The Silk Road trade played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, Korea, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Iran, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. Though silk was the major trade item exported from China, many other goods and ideas were exchanged, including religions (especially Buddhism), syncretic philosophies, sciences, and technologies like paper and gunpowder. So in addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade among the civilizations along its network. Diseases, most notably plague, also spread along the Silk Road.

Sumi-e: (Japanese, also known as “Ink wash painting”). A type of East Asian brush painting that uses black ink, as it was used in East Asian calligraphy, in different concentrations. Emerging during the Tang dynasty of China (618–907) its stylistic features include a preference for shades of black over variations in color, and an emphasis on brushwork and the perceived “spirit” or “essence” of a subject over direct imitation. It flourished during the Song dynasty (960–1279), as well as in Japan after it was introduced by Zen Buddhist monks in the 14th century.