Han Dynasty Art - Ancient China
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Han Dynasty Art

Chinese cloth bodhissatva
A Chinese boddhisatva (on cloth)
wearing a pearl necklace

April 2016 - There were two big changes in art in the Han Dynasty, and they both happened about the same time, in the 100s AD, about the time of Jesus in West Asia or Caligula in Europe.

statue of a lion-like monster
Chimera, Musee Guimet, Paris

The first big change was that many people in China converted to a new religion, Buddhism. Buddhism got started in India, and the Indian religious men who told Chinese people about Buddhism also showed Chinese artists Buddhist art. Many Chinese artists began to draw pictures of the Buddha and his holy followers, the boddhisatvas, and carve sculptures of them. The style of these Buddhist paintings and sculptures was a lot like Indian art styles.


Servant, Musee
Guimet, Paris

The other big change was that Chinese scientists invented paper. Instead of painting on silk the way they had in the Zhou and Chin Dynasties, Chinese artists began to use paper (but they still used silk too).

On the other hand, by the end of the Han Dynasty the old sacrificial bronzes that began in the Shang Dynasty seem to have been losing popularity - artists kept making them, but in the same old shapes, without any new experiments or new ideas.

Han Dynasty artists did make a lot of very lively small clay figures, both people and animals.

Learn by doing: make a small figure out of clay
Go on to Three Kingdoms period art

Bibliography and further reading about Han Dynasty art:



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 , 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.

Chinese Buddhist Art, by Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky (2003) .


Three Kingdoms period art
More on China in the Han Dynasty
Ancient China
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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