Sui Dynasty Art - Ancient China
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Sui Dynasty Art

Sui Dynasty camel
Sui Dynasty clay camel, ca. 600-650 AD

April 2016 - In the Three Kingdoms period, Chinese artists had learned a lot about Indian and West Asian sculptural styles.

Now in the Sui Dynasty, artists transformed what they had learned and mixed it with Chinese styles to create a new, unified, uniquely Chinese style in sculpture. And they used the same style all over China, as if to emphasize that all of China was again under one Emperor.

Sui Dynasty Buddhist scene
Sui Dynasty scene from one
of the earlier incarnations of the Buddha
(both Musee Guimet, Paris)

In painting, too, artists developed a more unified system of painting during the Sui Dynasty. They were especially interested in how to show that one thing was nearer than another, or farther away but larger.

chinese landscape painting
Sui landscape by Zhan Zi-qian

For example, in this landscape by the Sui dynasty artist Zhan Zi-qian, some of the trees are bigger and closer, while the forest is far away. Unlike in West Asia, where most paintings were still frescos on plaster, or painted on wood, Chinese painters were beginning to paint more on silk or paper scrolls, so they could sell or give away the paintings. The red stamps on this painting are the seals of the painting's many owner.

Sui Dynasty china bowl
Sui Dynasty cup (Musee Guimet, Paris)

This was also a time of developing pottery styles. In the Sui Dynasty, for the first time, we see recognizable beginnings of the great Chinese porcelain industry (that's why we call it "china"!).

Learn by doing: paint a landscape using perspective
More about T'ang Dynasty art

Bibliography and further reading about Sui 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.

T'ang Dynasty art
More about Sui Dynasty China
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, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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