Sung Dynasty Chinese Art History - China Facts for Kids!

Sung Dynasty Chinese Art

sung dynasty painting
Fan Kuan, "Traveling amid
Streams and Mountains"
(National Palace Museum,

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 fog.

sung dynasty painting
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 came from Taoist and Confucian ideas about how the world worked. It was important to these artists to show how nature and man worked together in peace.

sung branch of bamboo
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, Sung Dynasty artists 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.

sung rock formation
"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. This emperor 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.

sung metal sculpture
The boddhisatva Avalokitesvara, with a thousand arms
and a thousand eyes, about 950 AD (Musee Guimet, Paris)

Buddhist artists represented boddhisatvas - special holy Buddhist men and women like Christian saints - sometimes with many arms like this one here to show that they had many different powers, and many eyes to show that they could watch over everybody and everything.

sung Chinese dragon
Sung Dynasty dragon, in silver with gold and
turquoise inlays (Musee Guimet, Paris)

A lot of Sung Dynasty art was made of metal - often of precious metals like gold and silver. This gold and silver dragon also has turquoise inlays that were probably made from stones imported from Iran along the Silk Road.

sung porcelain pitcher
Sung Dynasty vase (Musee Guimet, Paris)

Chinese potters kept on making pottery in the Sung Dynasty period also. This tall, graceful pitcher is made of porcelain, like earlier T'ang Dynasty pottery, but now the porcelain is painted with a black flower.

To find out more about Sung Dynasty Chinese art, check out these books from Amazon or from your library:

The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, by Jessica Rawson and others (1996). Rawson is a curator at the British Museum, and she uses the collection of the British Museum to illustrate this book. Library Journal calls it "easily the best introductory overview of Chinese art to appear in years".

Art in China (Oxford History of Art Series), by Craig Clunas (1997). Not specifically for kids, but a good introduction to the spirit of Chinese art. Warning: this one is not arranged in chronological order. Instead, it has chapters on sculpture, calligraphy, and so on.

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