China: Sui, Tang and Song Dynasties (581-1279)

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SUI DYNASTY (589-618):

Pilgrim flask
Statue, Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva
Strolling about in Spring
Pipa Player statuette
Emperors Wen and Yang Guang of Sui
TANG DYNASTY (618-1024):
Ladies dancing
Buddha Triad plaque
Glazed pottery horse
Marble horse head
Musicians on a Camel
Jade dragon
Tang palace maids
Plump Tang woman tomb figure
Statue of a Bodhisattva
Fu Sheng Expounding
Tang emissaries to Varkhuman
Emperor Taizing’s horse
Statue of a Lo-Han
Painted Pottery, Parents and child
Fengxian Temple, Longmen caves
Glazed Camel
Empress Wu (Wu Zetian)
Bronze Mirror

Tang Dynasty (cont):
Statue of Avalokites’vara
Silver wine cup
Tang court ladies
Leshan Giant Buddha
Handscroll ‘Night Shining White’
Female polo playing tomb figure
Horse tomb figure
Offering plates with sancai glaze
Statue of a Buddhist Priest
Buddhist mural, Bezeklik grottoes
Victory of General Zhang Yichao
Tang painting from Dunhuang
Tejaprabhā Buddha, Five Planets
Avalokiteshvara wooden statue
Travellers by Streams & Mountains
Five Dynasties:
Buddhist Temple in Mountain
Song Dynasty:
Emperors Taizu and Taizong
Cuju game, with emperors
Wooden Bodhisattva
Armoured Song cavalry
Water-powered mill

Sui Dynasty 隋朝 (589-618)

The Sui dynasty was a short-lived imperial dynasty of China of pivotal significance. The Sui unified the Northern and Southern dynasties and reinstalled the rule of ethnic Han in the entirety of China proper, along with sinicization of former nomadic ethnic minorities (Five Barbarians) within its territory. It was succeeded by the Tang dynasty, which largely inherited its foundation.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]


A Sui Dynasty stoneware pilgrim flask with transparent glaze Dated to 589-618 CE it is on show at the
From the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington DC USA


Image source: Wikimedia commons

A Sui dynasty stone statue of Guanyin, the Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva.
Zhan Ziquan, was a famous painter for the period, He painted within a number of genres and produced religion paintings which have not survived. His paintings of pavilions. people and horses were admired.

The only painting by him that survived is this landscape, Strolling About in Spring, a perspective arrangement of mountains. It is cited as the earliest surviving work of Chinese landscape painting and the first shan shui (brush and ink) painting.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Sui statuette of of a Pipa Player. A pipa is a four-stringed musical instrument. It is on show at the Musée Cernuschi, Paris France. Below is a Ming Dynasty pipa.

Image source: metmuseum.org
The top image is Emperor Wen of Sui, aka Yang Jian (541-604), taken from the Thirteen Emperors Scroll, believed to be produced by
Yan Li-pen.
Wen founded the Sui Dynasty in 581 by reunifying the country, this was a prosperous period. He was its first emperor and reportedly an able administrator. He started the construction of the Grand Canal, the longest canal or artificial river in the world at 1776 kms, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River. As a Buddhist, he encouraged the spread of Buddhism through the state.
Emperor Wen is also known for recording the smallest number of concubines for an adult Chinese emperor. He had just two and it is suggested he might not have had sexual relations with them until after the death in 602 of his wife Empress Dugu, whom he reportedly loved and respected deeply.

The lower image is Emperor Yang Guang of Sui (569-618). He was the second son of Emperor Wen. He committed himself to large construction projects, completing the Grand Canal, and reconstructing the Great Wall. The latter project took the lives of nearly six million workers. He ordered several military expeditions that brought Sui to its territorial zenith.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

TANG DYNASTY 五代十国 (618-906):

China was first unified under the Sui dynasty in 581, and in 618 the general Li Yuan founded the Tang dynasty. The Tang is considered one of the most prosperous periods in Chinese history, marked by economic and military expansions, successful diplomatic relations and a revolution in the official examination system, which had a profound effect in the creation of a new social elite.

Under the Tang, the capital Chang’an became an international metropolis, which boasted some two million inhabitants including a sizeable community of foreign residents.

From the early years of the dynasty, Buddhism was supported by the Imperial court, who actively sponsored major building projects and encouraged monks to travel abroad and bring back sacred scriptures. Empress Wu Zetian sponsored the monumental sculptures of the Fengxian Temple at Longmen. Sculptures of the period embody a distinctive Tang style.


Image source: Wikimedia commons

This is three of five women dancers that were discovered from the late 7th century. They are fabricated from moulded buff mud, then decorated by engobe and polychrome. They are on show at the Musée Guimet, Paris France.
This Shaanxi Province earthenware plaque displays a Buddha Triad. It is 13 x 10 cms annd is dated to the 7th century CE and Tang Dynasty.
An inscription states ‘In the Tang dynasty, by good works one obtains in pressed clay, true likeness of the wonderful Being’.

Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Standing Horse is a glazed pottery tomb figure. Numerous tomb figurines and other artefacts were designed specifically to be buried with the deceased in burial mounds. This large figurine features the use of sancai, a glazing technique popular during the Tang dynasty.
Tang carved marble horse head
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: sogdians.si.edu

A Bactrian camel (two-humped – note Bactrian’s B has two humps, Dromedary’s D has one) is carrying five musicians,
The caps of the musicians identify their Sogdian (Iranian) origin. Central Asian rulers often sent entertainers as tribute to the Sui and Tang courts of China. A large number of them became independent performers.
This was found in the tomb of Xianyu Tinghui, a high ranking military officer to Emperor Xuanzong. Also found in his tomb were other ceramic figurines: musicians, actors, court jesters, attendants, and a horse led by its Central Asian groom. He was however not Sogdian but from NE China and served there.
This is a Tang Jade dragon, compare this with the one from 3,500 BCE – here.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Early T’ang period grave mural. The painting shows a group of palace maids, wearing floor-length skirts and long-sleeved jackets. One of them carries a fan, and another carries a long-handled feather duster. These define more celarly that they are maids, not maidens.
It is on display at the Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an China.
This tomb figure features a rather plump Tang woman. It is made of painted pottery and is at the Shanghai Museum.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: alaintruong.com

Large white marble statue of a bodhisattva, or Buddhist Saint. It is Tang dynasty. The bodhisattva is described as standing contrapposto and holding a basket. The statue shows necklaces and jewelled pendants and wearing a five-pointed diadem. The base is a lotus supported by four mystical creatures. It is described as spanning the aesthetic of the Sui and Tang dynasty.
This Tang Dynasty handscroll is ink and colours upon silk
The subject is Fu Sheng expounding the ‘Classic’ and the artist is assumed to be Wang Wei (701-761). Fu Sheng is said to be lecturing on Shang shu, the most basic Confucian text of politics and philosophy, which he had saved from the Great Qin book-burning. Fu Sheng continued to teach until he was over ninety, and has been revered as a great patron of scholarship for centuries.
It is 45 x 24 cms and on show at the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts, Japan.

Image source: chinaonlinemuseum.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

These missions were two-way. The Afrasiyab murals in Samarkand (SE Uzbekistan) include this image of Tang Dynasty emissaries to the court of Varkhuman, King of Sogdia. They bring silk and a string of silkworm cocoons. It is dated to 648-651 CE
This horse, named ‘Saluzi’ or Autumn Dew, is one of six reliefs of chargers commissioned by the Emperor Taizong for the Zhaoling Mausoleum. Taizong was the second Tang emperor reigning from 626 until his death in 649. Zhaoling was built into Jiuzong Mountain 80 kms out of Xi’an city centre.
Taizong commissioned it and was the first person buried there, the passage to his tomb passes through five stone gates and runs 230m into the mountain. There are some two hundred satellite tombs of ministers and other elite officials.
Historical records say the horse, Saluzi, was ridden into battle by the Emperor during a great siege. After the horse was struck with an arrow, the Emperor had to switch horses with one of his favorite Generals. The General is shown pulling the arrow out of Autumn Dew’s chest while the horse stoically bears the pain.
It is very likely based upon a drawing by Yan Liben.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: buddhanet.net

This is a glazed pottery statue of a Lo-Han. A Lo-han is the Chinese term for an arhat, an historical disciple of the Buddha. As Buddhist tradition developed, the number of arhats or lo-hans tended to increase. The most important became regarded as bodhisattvas or fully enlightened beings, well-known for their great wisdom, courage and supernatural power.
These Tang dynasty tomb figures were made of pottery as grave goods. There was a belief that the figures represented would become available for the service of the deceased in the afterlife.
The family is made in moulded earthenware with colour added. These figures show the dress and hair code of the period. They are on show at the Aurora Art Museum, Shanghai China.

Image source: joyofmuseums.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Fengxian Temple at the Longmen Grottoes, built between 672 and 676 for Empress Wu Zetian
Glazed earthenware Tang Dynasty Camel, c690-750, from Shanxi or Henan province, On show at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco USA.
Image source:khanacademy.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This is a portrait of a remarkable woman, though from an 18th c publication that did provide historical notes. She is Empress Wu known as Wu Zetian or Wu Zhao or Tain Hou).

She was de facto ruler of China, through her husband the Emperor Gaozong, then through her sons the Emperors Zhongzong and Ruizong from 665 to 690. She then became empress regnant of the Zhou dynasty of China, ruling from 690 to 705. She was the only female monarch in the history of China.

Wu later became the concubine of Emperor Taizong. When he died she married his successor, his ninth son, Emperor Gaozong, and was his huanghou, empress consort in 655. Gaozong’s died in 660 and Wu Zetian became the administrator of the court, a position equal to that of the emperor until 705, when she died at 81 years old.
Back of a bronze Tang mirror back, decorated and bossed in high relief with lions pursuing a fenghuang (immortal bird) among floral scrolls. It is on show at the Brooklyn Museum, NY USA.
Image source: brittanica.com

Image source: metmuseum.org

This Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara is gilt-bronze, from late 7th/early 8th century. This bodhisattva is variably depicted, described and portrayed in different cultures as either male or female. As a female the bodhisattva becomes Guanyin.
He/she embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
Silver wine cup with ring handle, probably from Chang’an, Shaanxi province, It is Tang dynasty and early 8th century, It is made from cast and hammered silver with mercury gilding of birds and a rabbit amid scrolling plant forms.
It is on show at the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC USA.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Tang court ladies from a mural in the tomb of Princess Yongtai in the Qianling Mausoleum, near Xi’an, Shaanxi China. By an anonymous painter. It is dated to 706 CE.
The Leshan Giant Buddha is a 71m tall, stone statue built between 713 and 803. It is carved within a cliff of Cretaceous red bed sandstones, at the confluence of the Minjiang, Qingyi and Dadu rivers. This is in the southern part of Sichuan province, near the city of Leshan.
It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. It is the largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world, and the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.
Construction started in 723 CE and was led by a Chinese monk, Hai Tong, hoping the Buddha would calm the waters that bothered boats and ships traveling down the river.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

‘Night Shining White’
This Tang handscroll is ink on paper 31 x 34 cm and attributed to Han Gan (706-783, active 742-756). It is entitled ‘Night Shining White’. It is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA.
Tang ceramic tomb figure of a female polo player, before 750.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This amber-brown glazed pottery tomb figure of a horse is from the Tang Dynasty, 8th c CE, It is on display at the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin-Dahlem.
These two offering plates are fairly similar at first glance, both are Tang dynasty, both 8th c.
Both made from glazed terracotta, with sancai (three colours) on engobe (slip), then the decorations have been incised.
Both are on show at the Musée Guimet, Paris France.
However the first has an abstract pattern, while the second has a floral design around the depiction of a bird.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: metmuseum.org

This statue is of a young monk, and is most likely Ananda. The statue was once part of a large group that would have included a Buddha accompanied by bodhisattvas and guardians.
Ananda first cousin of the Buddha and one of his principal disciples, known as his ‘beloved disciple’ and his devoted companion. He is credited with persuading the Buddha, much against the Buddha’s own inclination, to allow women to become nuns.
Buddhist mural in the Bezeklik grottoes. A Central Asian monk, possibly Indo-European is teaching an East Asian monk, perhaps a Turkic Uyghur or Chinese. This is a 9th c CE fresco from the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves near Turfan, Xinjiang China.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Mural commemorating victory of General Zhang Yichao over the Tibetans in 848. The mural is in Mogao cave 156.
Zhang Yichao was a general of the Tang Dynasty. When Tibet had a civil war, he led a rebellion that captured several cities and brought them back into the Tang Dynasty.
A Tang painting from Dunhuang, o the edge of the Gobi desert and a Silk Road garrison.
The bodhisattva is leading a woman to the Pure Land on the golden cloud in the upper left corner. His right hand contains an incense burner, his left a lotus flower.
It is 81 x 54 cms and is on show at the British Museum, London UK.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Tejaprabhā Buddha and the Five Planets is a painting by Chang Huai-hsing. Tejaprabhā Buddha means the Buddha of the Blazing Lights. The five planets, were those known at that time – Mercury and Venus; Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
This sculpture in wood represents Avalokiteshvara, also known as Guanyin in Chinese Buddhism.
The bodhisattva appears relaxed and serene with her eyes full of mercy, making her the personification of kindness and beauty.

Image source: china.org.cn

Image source: secretimages.org
Travelers Among Mountains and Streams by Fan Kuan. The hanging scroll is 213 cm tall. In 1958 a scholar found that the artist had inserted a tiny signature near the line of mules and men who are threading their way through the rocky paths.

Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Five Dynasties (907-979):

The Song dynasty was presaged by The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907–979) was an era of political upheaval and division in 10th c Imperial China. Five states quickly succeeded one another in the Central Plain, and more than a dozen concurrent states were established elsewhere, mainly in South China. It was the last prolonged period of multiple political divisions in Chinese imperial history.

Five Dynasties 宋朝 (907-979)

The ‘Five Dynasties’ and ‘Ten Kingdoms’ period (907–979) was an era of political upheaval and division in 10th-century Imperial China. Five states quickly succeeded one another in the Central Plain, and more than a dozen concurrent states were established elsewhere, mainly in South China. It was the last prolonged period of multiple political divisions in Chinese imperial history.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]


Detail from the Five Dynasties Buddhist Temple in Mountain by Li Cheng. In the full picture the temple is shown from a considerable distance, in order to present its remote surroundings.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Song Dynasty 宋朝 (960-1279)

The Song dynasty 宋朝 was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of the Later Zhou, ending the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Song often came into conflict with the contemporaneous Liao, Western Xia and Jin dynasties to its north. It was eventually conquered by the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

Image source: Wikimedia commons

A court portrait painting of Emperor Taizu of Song (reigned 960–976), . He assumed the throne of the Later Zhou dynasty, then spent sixteen years conquering the rest of China. He reunited much of the territory that had belonged to the Han and Tang empires and ended the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. He enjoyed diploamtic relationships with India, Egypt, the Kara-Khanid Khanate of Central Asia, and the Goryeo kingdom in Korea.
Emperor Taizong of Song (reigned 976–997)
A game of Cuju, an early form of football, is depicted being played by Emperor Taizu of Song, Emperor Taizong of Song, prime minister Zhao Pu and other ministers. The artist was Qian Xuan.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

A Song wooden statue of Bodhisattva, on show at the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin Germany.
ated to 1053-1065 this pinting depicts the Northern Song cavalry. Whilst they look efficient here, the Song military was organised to ensure that the army could not threaten Imperial control,often at the expense of effectiveness in war.
At its peak there were one million soldiers. The army was divided among three marshals, each independently responsible to the Emperor. The imperial court often mistrusted successful generals, believing they endangered royal authority, they either relieved them, and on a number of occasions executed them.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Song Dynasty painting of a water-powered mill for grain, with surrounding river transport.

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