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Republic of China
Chronology of China


II. The Three Kingdoms, Western Jin and Eastern Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties


Throughout the three hundred and sixty-nine years from the Three Kingdoms to the founding of the Sui Dynasty, China had been trapped in the long term dreadful conflicts, while the country split apart by war and dynasties frequently changed, as well as an active period which is rare in Chinese history. In the Chinese art history, painting of the Three Kingdoms, Western Jin and Eastern Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties (six dynasties) occupies a very important place. A number of literati and scholar-bureaucrat joined the art circle, and before that, paintings were mainly drawn by nameless craftsmen. Literati painters brought new trends and expanded the field of painting, as when paintings drew materials directly from literary works. New artistic techniques made paintings more complicated, more vivid, more accurate in modeling. Some outstanding painters in this period have become the first painters who stamped their names on the page of Chinese art history.

Cao Buxing was a well-known painter during the Three Kingdoms period and the first Buddha painter ever being documented in China. The wrinkled drapery he painted was clinging to the human body as if they just came out of water, so people called his style as "Cao Yi Chu Shui" (Cao's cloth coming out of water). Wei Xie was a skillful painter in the Western Jin Dynasty. He changed the simple techniques and had a historical significance in artistic technique reform.

The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, Gu Kaizhi(about 345-406)


The "Three standouts in six dynasties" were representative artists of this period. They were Gu Kaizhi, Lu Tanwei, and Zhang Sengyao. Art critic Zhang Huaichang evaluated The Three's figure painting in his "Hua Duan" (Comments On Painting), "Zhang Sengyao paints the flesh, Lu Tanwei paints the bone, and Gu Kaizhi paints the soul." Gu Kaizhi was listed as the top of the three standouts here, however, since none of their paintings survives today, we cannot verify Zhang's conclusion fairly. Gu Kaizhi, from the East Jin Dynasty, was adept in literature, versed in poem writing, excellent in painting.

Gu Kaizhi's reputation was probably helped by anecdotes about his eccentricity; he was said to have three "perfects" - perfect in "painting, literary composition and foolishness". His figure painting emphasized lifelikeness and vividness, and Xie An eulogized his work of art as "without parallel in human history". The existing imitated copies of Gu's paintings, including "The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies" (Tang Dynasty copy), "The Painting of Ode to the Goddess in Luo" (Song Dynasty copy), and "The Exemplary Women of Benevolence and Wisdom" (Song Dynasty copy), represent the vivid spirit of Gu's time. Lu Tanwei, from between Song and Qi Period of the Southern Dynasty, had a distinctive technique of "continuously and unbrokenly" use of brush, which was called "one stroke painting". Zhang Huaichang praised that Lu created a style of "elegant bones and handsome looks", and Xie He recognized Lu as the master of the "Six Canons of Painting". It's such a pity that no work of his is extant.

Zhang Sengyao, from Liang Period of Southern Dynasty, was known for being expert in painting Buddhist and Taoist subjects. In the Six Dynasties when Buddhism and Buddhist art from India was introduced into China, Zhang Sengyao absorbed foreign forms of expression, and painted with Indian style of "concave-and-convex", which brought new dimensions to the subjects, created a school of his own called "Zhang School", and initiated a loose style of painting which shined each other with Gu and Lu's tight style.


Painting of Twenty-eight Deities, Zhang Sengyao(early 6th century)

From the Tang Dynasty imitated copy "A Roll of the Five Stars and Twenty-Eight Constellations in the Celestials" we can see that Zhang's painting is indeed more sensual than Gu's with a apparently exotic style.At the beginning of this period, as in the Han Dynasty, the warning and education function of painting was still emphasized, whose purpose was basically to serve for politics. Buddhist and Taoist figure and characters from myths and literary works became the main subject, while landscapes could only appear as the background and was required to "figure must be bigger than mountain, and water must not make waves". During Liu Song Dynasty, the representative painter Wang Wei and Zong Bing started to develop landscapes into an independent genre of painting. Landscape painting does not have propagandistic and educational function, but usually to express oneself and amuse oneself; it would bring more space and freedom of expression to the later painters.







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