The Indian Region and the Far East




The Art of Java

In Java, the earliest examples of classical Indian-influenced art date from the eighth century, such as the simple cubiform temples of the Dieng plateau. Under the rule of the Srivijaya dynasty (c.ad778-856), the great stupa of Borobudur was built in central Java. This stupa, which remains the largest Buddhist monument in the world, was constructed in the form of a gigantic mandala, or diagrammatic aid to meditation. The Hindu temple complex of Prambanan, near Yogyakarta, dates from slightly later than Borobudur, and its architectural and artistic features show that Buddhism and Hinduism co-existed in Java at that time. Stone sculpture is represented by the sensuous and graceful bas-reliefs, depicting in lively detail either previous lives of the Buddha (jataka stories) or tales from Hindu epics. The free-standing stone sculpture from the period has a distinctive monumen-tality and smoothness of line, while the bronze sculpture, which reflects styles from southern and northeastern India, is particularly graceful. The cultural focus moved to eastern Java in ad929. The finest examples of eastern Javanese temple architecture and sculpture date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The arrival of Islam in the 15th century was to provide another rich new source of inspiration, particularly in the fields of calligraphy and metalwork.

Cover of a terrace, Borobudur, Java, eigth to ninth century ad.
This monument is rich in splendid didactic sculptures.



View of Angkor Wat. first half of the 12th century.
This magnificent Hindu tempie was dedicated to Vishnu.
In the centre, the mountain-temple rises up, surrounded by moats that allude to the sea,
and galleries that symbolize the mountains.
In this microcosm, the sacredness of the Khmer kings was protected by Vishnu.



The Buddhist sanctuaries of Pagan represent an original application of the Indian temple to Buddhist architecture. In the classical Burmese version, the temple was built on two levels divided up at various points. A square platform with rising terraces supported the central cubic body. This was covered by a pyramidal structure, and surmounted either by a bell-shaped stupa of Burmese derivation or by a mitre-shaped roof. In Khmer art, the sanctuary was a monument of sophisticated symbolism, as can be seen in the classic example of Angkor Wat. The pyramidal structure was intended to reflect the harmony and perfection of Mount Mem, the dwelling place of the gods. The sacred area is reached through an entrance gate, and a long causeway leads across the first platform on which the temple stands. A complicated system of galleries and steps links the adjoining areas to the last platform. In the centre of the terrace is the temple with its characteristic towers, square in plan with a tall, curvilinear roof. The temple is decorated in bas-reliefs, the most famous of which is the Churning of the Milky Ocean.

Buddhist sanctuaries, Pagan.
The political and artistic centre of Burma, Pagan flourished from the 11th to the 13th
century, its variety of architectural forms deriving mainly from Indian influences.
One of the most important Pagan civic monuments is the 1 Uh-century library.




Wen Tong (1018-79). Bamboo, Song period, c. 1070. Chinese artists of the Song period made use of a particular conventional brushstroke to paint plants.


Xia Gui (active c 1200-40),
A Fisherman's Abode after Rain,
Southern Song dynasty
end of 12th century.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Xia Gui (active c 1200-40),
Swinging Gibbon
late 1100s- 1st quarter 1200s.


The Golden Age of Chinese Art

Wall-painting from a royal tomb,
Da Horinger. Inner Mongolia, Han
period. The depiction of horses,
a common theme at this time, indicates
the social rank of the dead man. It follows
a trend that has a precedent in
the tomb of Qin Shihuang


Much information about the pictorial art of the Han period comes from the painted decorations on lacquer and pottery, and from sculpted stone figures. Few silk paintings have survived, but some tombs have revealed wall-paintings indicating that Han artists excelled in figure painting. Landscape was merely the background for the narration of human and mythical events: the notion that it might constitute a subject in its own right did not enter into the cultural considerations of the time. The introduction of Buddhism into China in the first century ad opened up new artistic possibilities and perspectives. The rich icono-graphic tradition and compositional techniques of Buddhist painting were fused with those of the purer Chnese prototypes. Narrative painting developed during the Eastern Han dynasty (ad25-221) and the successive period of the Six Dynasties, also known as the Three Kingdoms (AD220-280). Wall-paintings and handscroll paintings became favourite modes of expression. The narrative of the horizontal scrolls was read from right to left, while the walls of temples, tombs, and palaces were adorned with processional scenes of figures drawn with flowing outlines and bright colours. The palette was richer than that previously used - when red, yellow, and black predominated - and was perhaps inspired by lacquer painting. The Six Dynasties ushered in a period of stark political instability for several centuries, during which China was split between north and south and ruled by various dynasties. From ad386 to 557, the Chinese-assimilated proto-Turkish population of the Tuoba-Wei dominated the north. They played a fundamental role in the diffusion of Buddhist teachings. This was the era of the great cave temples. The oldest site. founded in the fourth century by itinerant monks, was that of Dunhuang in Gansu province, which consisted of hundreds of caves decorated with sculptures and frescos. In ad440, the Wei conquered Dunhuang, and many important works of art were produced under their patronage. With splendid frescos in bright colours portraying traditional Buddhist scenes, the depiction of landscape became increasingly important from about the sixth century onwards. A school of court painting developed alongside the collective tradition of itinerant artists. In the capital of the southern Jin, near present-day Nanjing, worked the artist Gu Kaizhi (ad344-406). Two important paintings (though not in their original form but in later copies) are attributed to him: Advice of the Governess to the Court Ladies and The Nymph of the Lo River. In these balanced compositions, the elegant, softly outlined figures of women and dignitaries, coloured in ink on silk, are still more prominent than the landscape, which is confined to essentials and indicated with lines of uniform thickness and light shading. The Sui (ad581-618) reunified China, and the following Tang dynasty (ad618-907) reorganized the empire and gave a fresh impetus to the arts. The desire to create new rules of conduct after a long period of disorder and fragmentation was reflected in the arts, with a codification of standards and techniques. This period saw the birth of landscape painting, due principally to developments in the use of colour. Li Sixun (ad653-718) and Li Zhaodao (ad670-730) brought life to a decorative style associated with the court environment. It was characterized by an increased emphasis on the linear element, but was also enriched by the use of bright colours - clearly the influence of the great wall-paintings of Buddhist temples. The predominant tones were cobalt blue and green (produced from copper), with light touches of gold. Court painting was also the province of Yan Liben (ad600-73), to whom The Scroll of the Thirteen Emperors is attributed. His imposing figures represent the image of the sovereign according to Confucian convention. In the eighth century, the poet and painter Wang Wei (ad699-759) initiated a new style of landscape painting. He introduced the ink-splash technique, using black Indian ink. The style relied less on the importance of the line and more on the gradations of the monochrome ink, representing the infinite variations of landscape. This allusive, poetic style of painting, impressionistic in effect and defined as "poetry without words", was particularly appreciated by intellectuals in later periods. Through suggestion rather than description, it could create a magical atmosphere that expressed the contemplative spirit of the scholar. The work of the artist Wu Daozi (ad689-758), a contemporary of Wang Wei, was highly acclaimed by generations of critics. He produced handscroll paintings and wall-paintings for temples and palaces. His powerful, expressive line and almost calligraphic brushstroke evoked the admiration of his contemporaries, feeding the legend that he was capable of infusing his figures with life. During the period of the Five Dynasties (ad907-60), landscape painting reached a new peak. Jing Hao (c.ad870-940) set the generic standards with his Bifagi ("Essay on the Use of the Brush"). This exhorted the painter to pursue absolute truth, not in the sense of outer appearances but in correspondence with the principles of nature. Through the humble observation of natural forms, the artist could discover their eternal and essential characteristics; by concentrating on these, he would be able to formulate the language to translate it into a powerful, visual experience of the universe. A tendency towards realism derived from this process of contemplation is evident in the work of the painters of the Song dynasty (ad960-1279). This was partly stimulated by neo-Confucianism, which spread with the arrival of the dynasty and nurtured faith in man's ability to understand the world by means of attentive and thorough observation of natural phenomena. This is not a matter of scientific investigation in the Western sense of the term but of a search for the li - the principle or essence of every phenomenon. It was believed that it was possible through deep concentration to approach knowledge of single phenomena and, at a higher level, to gain intuition of the universe in its totality. This would reveal a synthetic rather than analytical vision of the world. Similarly, the artist was to paint that which he knew to exist in a particular place, not that which could be perceived from a single viewpoint. A landscape, therefore, should not be seen from one particular angle, as in Western art, but from an abstract viewpoint that would embrace the whole scene. Chinese perspective is mobile: it does not restrict the spectator to one fixed position but shifts around to create a series of different viewpoints, as experienced by a traveller.

Xia Gui (active c 1200-40)

Xia Gui (active c 1200-40), Rivers and Mountains, Pure and Distant, Song dynasty.
In this horizontal scroll, the landscape loses any monumental aspect and unfolds rather tentatively.
Rendered in ink on paper, the scene is delicate and imbued with a slightly melancholic air.


Xia Gui (active c 1200-40),

Streams and Mountains with a Clear Distant View.


Xia Gui (active c 1200-40),
Mountain Market in Clearing Mist, Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279).


Xia Gui (active c 1200-40), Sailboat in Rainstorm,
Southern Song dynasty, about 1189–94.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Xia Gui (active c 1200-40), Landscape.
Southern Song Dynasty, 13th century.


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