The Indian Region and the Far East







This work by Yan Liben (ad600-673) depicts the sovereign standing between two markedly smaller dignitaries, who reach only to his shoulders. He rests his forearms on their folded arms. The dominant colours of the robes are pink, red (for the emperor), and black, with touches of white and gold. A thin, pleated tunic reaches the ground and partly covers the emperor's red shoes. Other finely decorated red and pink articles of clothing are partially concealed by the sumptuous black overgarment, which has a red border and is decorated in gold. The long sleeves cover the hands, which, for ritual reasons, are left invisible and protected. Long fringes hang from the complex head-dress to mask the sacred face. The officials are bearded like their lord but their costumes are less elaborate.

Yan Liben (ad600-673), From The Scroll of the Thirteen Emperors.
Seventh century ad.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Yan Liben (ad600-673), Northern Song dynasty, 11th century.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.



White porcelain Melplng vase with sancai "three-colour" decoration, Ming period. Musee Guimet. Paris.


Early experiments during the end of the Eastern Han period and the Wei and Jin dynasties eventually led to the production of fine porcelain during the Sui and Tang dynasties. The first workshops were in the north. Kaolin, a special type of clay, was an essential ingredient of the paste used to make porcelain and was fairly common in the northern regions of China. During the Song dynasty, porcelain was also being manufactured in the workshops of Jiangxi in the south. Song porcelain products are generally simple, without the rich decoration typical of Tang ceramics. Their outstanding beauty is manifest in the delicacy of the body and lid, which are generally monochrome. The porcelain of the Yuan (1260-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing (1644-1912) periods is more lavishly decorated. The Ming dynasty was the golden age of white porcelain with cobalt-blue underglaze decoration. There were further experiments during this period and the ensuing Qing dynasty, with various decorative techniques using enamelled glazes. Styles ranged from doucai (contrasting colours) to ivncai (five colours), and famille verte and famille rose, the latter two developed under the Qing dynasty. In addition to a notable production of pieces in earthenware and stoneware, celadonware (Chinese stoneware with a delicate green glaze) achieved excellent results. Although the technical quality of porcelain was being refined during the Eastern Han era (AD25-220), it is the pieces created during the Song dynasty that are still considered the most remarkable.


Guan ceramic vase with tubular handles, southern Song dynasty (1127-1297).

Large porcelain jar with wucai decoration,
Jiajing period, mid-16th century.
Musee Guimet, Paris.
One ot a pair, this lidded jar perfectly represents the style of the period.

Porcelain plate with overglaze enamel decoration, Yongzheng (1723-35).
British Museum. London.
Plates like this one, typical of Qing taste, were extremely popular and were
the subject of many imitations in Europe.



The Koryo Art of Korea

The division of the Korean peninsula into three distinct territorial units - Koguryo in the north (37bc-ad668), Paekche in the southwest (18bc-ad660), and Silla in the southeast (57bc-ad935) - led to a differentiation of art forms. The small Buddhist sculptures in bronze or clay from the Koguryo temples were typical of the style of the northern Wei (ad430-534); the plastic art of Paekche showed the influence of the Chinese Liang dynasty (ad502-57), and the great granite temples, built after the unification of the country under Silla rule (ad668-918), echo the Chinese Tang style, surpassing it in the sculpture of figures. Traces of Indian influence, as seen in the massive legs and the fan-shaped drapery at the bottom of the garments, were perhaps the result of repeated visits to India by Silla Buddhist monks and pilgrims.
The Great Silla style was characterized by the sculptures of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. These were set in the artificial caves of Sokkuram, south of the Silla capital Kyonju in southeastern Korea. Close contacts with China were fundamental to the development of tomb wall-paintings, as exemplified by the realistic
style of Zol Kuh from the mid-sixth century. Although there are no surviving examples of the paintings from the Great Silla period, it is known that there was an office responsible for the Fine Arts. In the Koryo period (ad918-1392), the capital was moved to Kaesong, north of Seoul, and this led to the transfer of many arts and crafts workshops, which maintained their unique styles and techniques. Painting, too, was strongly encouraged by artists of the imperial house, among them the emperors Hing Jong (1095), In Jong (1123-46), and Kong Min (1352-74). Sculptors of the time favoured a more naturalistic approach to figures, which were now produced in a freer style and possessed recognizably human features. Artistic influences introduced by the Mongol invasion of 1231 resulted in an increased amount of decoration in sculpture, an abundant use of jewellery, and a more relaxed portrayal of the human figure, which was characterized by slanting eyes. At the same time, the rising popularity of Zen Buddhism signalled a marked decline in the creation of effigies and cult objects. Major contributions to the art of the Koryo dynasty came in the field of ceramics, with the development of celadonware, a type of porcelain notable both for its form and linear decoration. The influence of China, initially of the Five Dynasties and later of the Song and Yuan dynasties, helped to create beautifully balanced and extremely delicate products.

Glazed celadon cosmetic box, Koryo period, second half of the 12th century. National Museum, Seoul.



Painting has played an important role in Korea since antiquity. Tomb paintings, particularly in the Koguryo tombs, include the depiction of the life of the dead person, the animal guardians of the four cardinal points and celestial figures - all of them subjects that originated in the Chinese tomb decorations of the Han dynasty. In Korea, such decorations lasted long after the Han period and into the seventh century. Among these are the Great Tomb of Kangso. the tomb of Naeri with its landscape pictures, and Chin'pari with its animal motifs. Buddhist influence soon produced decorative motifs featuring lotus blossom and flower garlands, which were used to border decorated areas and adorn ceilings. There is evidence from the royal tombs of the Sabi period (AD538-660), situated at Paekche, that each fragment of polished stone was decorated with the animal guardians of the four directions, as seen in the Koguryo tombs. The construction of brick pagodas created a demand for decorated tiles and provided a new stimulus for Korean painting. Artists produced unrivalled masterpieces in this medium, some of which were among the earliest examples of landscape art in eastern Asia.

Sutra of the sermons of Buddha, 1275, Koryo period.
Cho Myong-Gi Collection, Seoul.

Wall-painting of a hunting scene from the tomb of Muyong Ch 'ong of Koguryo, period of the Three Kingdoms (mid-fifth century).

Documentation of painting from the Great Silla period is all too sparse, although the excellent quality of a fragment of the Avatamsaka sutra (AD754-55). painted in gold and silver, testifies to the level of refinement attained bv the artists of the time. During the Koryo period, there were professional painters, such as Yi Nyong (12th century) and amateurs like the monk Hyeho, who devoted themselves to depicting landscapes both in paint and monochrome ink. The decoration of ceramics was also an important element of the painting of the Koryo period. Delicate flowers, plants, and birds adorned elegant celadon-wares, which rivalled their Chinese counterparts in grace.


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