Sui Dynasty Art – Painting and porcelain in Medieval China

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A clay model of a camel kneeling

Sui Dynasty art: a clay camel, ca. 600-650 AD

What came before the Sui Dynasty?

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

(Read more about Three Kingdoms art)

How was Sui Dynasty art different?

Now in the Sui Dynasty, in the late 500s AD, artists transformed what they had learned and mixed it with Chinese styles to create a new, unified, uniquely Chinese style in sculpture.

(What was the Sui Dynasty government like?)

And they used the same style all over China, as if to emphasize that all of China was again under one Emperor.

carved stone figures of people

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

What about Sui Dynasty painting?

In painting, too, artists developed a more unified system of painting during the Sui Dynasty. Chinese painters were especially interested in perspective. How could they show that one thing was nearer than another? How could they show that something was farther away but larger?

painted landscape

Sui Dynasty art: a landscape by Zhan Zi-qian

The Chinese painter 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.

(What was Byzantine art like at this same time?)

The red stamps on this painting are the seals of the painting’s many owners. Each one put his or her own seal on the painting. People considered these seals to be adding value to the painting, not messing it up. The seals showed that a long line of honorable, important people had owned this painting and loved it.

A plain gray clay cup

Sui Dynasty cup (Musee Guimet, Paris)

What about Sui Dynasty porcelain?

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 our dishes “china”!).

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

More about the Sui Dynasty

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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By |2018-06-30T10:59:06+00:00June 6th, 2017|Art, China|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Sui Dynasty Art – Painting and porcelain in Medieval China. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 6, 2017. Web. November 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. 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, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

2 Comments

  1. Lorraine Paul June 30, 2018 at 2:47 am - Reply

    Don’t you think that European countries should finally return the art, especially that stolen during the Opium Wars?

    Europe and the US are nothing but scavengers and thieves of Asian art and the art and artefacts of other countries that they colonised.

    From the Elgin marbles to the Aboriginal art of my own country, Australia, there is a blight on Western societies.

    Lorraine Paul
    tottie1946@gmail.com

    • Karen Carr June 30, 2018 at 10:50 am

      Yes, I do think that China’s art belongs to China. I do think that it’s good for the world if people who can’t travel as far as China can still see Chinese art, but that should be accomplished through voluntary exchanges or legal sale, so people in China can also see Western art, and not through theft and war and colonization.

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