Tang dynasty art

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Silver wine cup
Night Shining White, a handscroll attributed to Han Gan (active 742–756).

Tang dynasty art (simplified Chinese: 唐朝艺术; traditional Chinese: 唐朝藝術; pinyin: Tángcháo Yìshù; Wade–Giles: T'ang2-ch'ao2 I4-shu4) is Chinese art made during the Tang dynasty (618–907). It is best known for the development of many forms—painting, sculpture, calligraphy, music, dance and literature.

The Tang dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an (today's Xi'an), the most populous city in the world at the time, is regarded by historians as a high point in Chinese civilization—equal, or even superior, to the Han period. The Tang period was considered the golden age of literature and art.

Stimulated by contact with India and the Middle East, the empire saw a flowering of creativity in many fields. Buddhism, originating in what is modern day India around the time of Confucius, continued to flourish during the Tang period and was adopted by the imperial family, becoming thoroughly sinicized and a permanent part of Chinese traditional culture. Block printing made the written word available to vastly greater audiences.


Tang painting from Dunhuang
From left to right:
(1) Buddhist art depicting musicians in paradise, a mural from the Yulin Caves of Dunhuang, Tang dynasty
(2) an armed cortege, mural from the tomb of Li Xian at the Qianling Mausoleum, early 8th century AD
(3) painting on a silk scroll of a female dancer from the Astana Cemetery of Gaochang (Turpan), c. 702 AD
(4) female figure as the planet Venus from the painting "Tejaprabhā Buddha and the Five Planets" (熾盛光佛並五星圖), depicted as playing the pipa, c. 897 AD

Beginning in the Tang dynasty, the primary subject matter of Chinese painting was the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain-water) painting. In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the "rhythm" of nature.

The Nine Pinnacle Pagoda of Shandong, completed by 756 and crowned with an unusual set of miniature pagodas; it is also unique for its octagonal base, which was rarely seen in Tang pagodas which often had square base plans

Trading along the Silk Road of various products increased cultural diversity in cosmopolitan Chinese cities, such as Chang'an, had a marked influence on the Chinese arts of the Tang dynasty. Many designs that were enjoyed with the upper classes of imperial China became common even in everyday art.[1]


Chinese ceramics saw many significant developments, including the first Chinese porcelain meeting both Western and Chinese definitions of porcelain, in Ding ware and related types. The earthenware Tang dynasty tomb figures are better known in the West today, but were only made to placed in elite tombs close to the capital in the north, between about 680 and 760. They were perhaps the last significant fine earthenwares to be produced in China, many lead-glazed sancai (three-colour) wares, which was also used for vessels for burial, and perhaps for use; the glaze was less toxic than in the Han, but perhaps still to be avoided for use at the dining table. Others are unpainted or were painted over a slip; the paint has now often fallen off.

In the south the wares from the Changsha Tongguan Kiln Site in Tongguan are significant as the first regular use of underglaze painting; examples have been found in many places in the Islamic world. However the production tailed off and underglaze painting remained a minor technique for several centuries.[2]

Yue ware was the leading high-fired, lime-glazed celadon of the period, and was of very sophisticated design, patronized by the court. This was also the case with the northern porcelains of kilns in the provinces of Henan and Hebei, which for the first time met the Western as well as the Eastern definition of porcelain, being a pure white and translucent.[3] One of the first mentions of porcelain by a foreigner was in the Chain of Chronicles written by the Arab traveler and merchant Suleiman in 851 AD during the Tang dynasty who recorded that:[4][5]

The Arabs were well used to glass, and he was certain that the porcelain that he saw was not that.

Yaozhou ware or Northern Celadon also began under the Tang, though like Ding ware its best period was under the next Song dynasty.


The first major well-documented flowering of Chinese music was for the qin during the Tang dynasty, though the qin is known to have been played since before the Han dynasty.

Late 20th century excavations of an intact tomb of the period revealed not only a number of instruments (including a spectacular concert bell set) but also inscribed tablets with playing instructions and musical scores for ensemble concerts, which are now heard again as played on reproduction instruments at the Hubei Provincial Museum.


Chinese opera is generally dated back to the Tang dynasty with Emperor Xuanzong (712–755), who founded the Pear Garden, the first known opera troupe in China. The troupe mostly performed for the emperors' personal pleasure.


The poetry of the Tang dynasty is about the most appreciated poetic era of Chinese poetry. The shi, the classical form of poetry which had developed in the late Han dynasty, reached its zenith.

During the Tang dynasty, poetry became popular, and writing poetry was considered a sign of learning. One of China's greatest poets was Li Po, who wrote about ordinary people and about nature, which was a powerful force in Chinese art. One of Li Po's short poems, "Waterfall at Lu-Shan", shows how Li Po felt about nature.

Tang dynasty artists[edit]

A ceramic female polo player, from northern China, Tang dynasty, first half of the 8th century, made with white slip and polychrome. From the Musée Guimet (Guimet Museum), Paris.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
  2. ^ Vainker, 82–84
  3. ^ Vainker, 64–72
  4. ^ Temple, Robert K.G. (2007). The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention (3rd edition). London: André Deutsch, pp. 103–6. ISBN 978-0-233-00202-6
  5. ^ Bushell, S. W. (1906). Chinese Art. Victoria and Albert Museum Art Handbook, His Majesty's Stationery Office, London.


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Further reading[edit]

  • Vainker, S.J., Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, 1991, British Museum Press, 9780714114705

Further reading[edit]