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Raphael Petrucci

This brief survey has shown how the distinctive features of China’s artistic activity were distributed. Though subjected to varying influences, this evolution possesses a unity which is quite as complete as is that of our Western art. In the beginning there were studies, of which we know only through written records. But the relationship existing between writing and painting from the dawn of historic time, permits us to carry our studies of primitive periods very far back, even earlier than the times of the sculptured works.

The following summary furnishes additional information regarding the painters to whom

Where our painters have chosen wood or canvas as a ground, the Chinese have employed silk or paper. While our art recognizes that drawing itself, quite apart from painting, is a sufficient objective, drawing and painting have always been closely intermingled in the Far East.

It has often been said that in Chinese painting, as in Japanese painting, perspective is ignored. Nothing is further from the truth. This error arises from the fact that we have confused one system of perspective with perspective as a whole. There are as many systems of perspective as there are conventional laws for the representation of space.

The Chinese divide the subjects of painting into four principal classes, as follows:
Man and Objects.
Flowers and Birds.
Plants and Insects.

Nowhere do we see a predominant place assigned to the drawing or painting of the human figure. This alone is sufficient to mark the wide difference between Chinese and European painting.

The aesthetic conceptions of the Far East have been deeply influenced by a special philosophy of nature. The Chinese consider the relation of the two principles, male and female, the yang and the yin, as the source of the universe. Detached from the primordial unity, they give birth to the forms of this world by ever varying degrees of combination. Heaven corresponds to the male principle, earth to the female principle.

The origins of painting in China are mingled with the origins of writing. Written characters are, in fact, derived from pictography or picture writing, those in use at the present time being only developed and conventionalized forms of primitive drawings. The early books and dictionaries give us definite information regarding this evolution.

The bas-reliefs of the Han dynasty are almost all comprised in the sculptured stone slabs embellishing mortuary chambers and of these the artistic merit is most unequal. [4] Their technique is primitive. It consists in making the contours of figures by cutting away the stone in grooves with softened angles, leaving the figure in silhouette. Engraved lines complete the drawing.

Chinese books state that between the fourth and the eighth centuries “the art of painting man and things underwent a vital change.” By this they alluded to the intervention of Buddhist art, which made its appearance in China toward the fifth century in the form of the Graeco-Indian art of Gandhara, already modified by its transit across Eastern Turkestan. This by no means indicates that purely Indian origins might not be found for it.

The T’ang dynasty was the really vital period of Chinese Buddhism. Among the painters who gave it its highest expression Wu Tao-tzŭ holds first place. His memory dwells in history as that of one of the greatest masters in China and legend has still further enhanced the might of his genius. It is highly probable that his work is entirely destroyed, but by the aid of copies, incised stones and wood engravings of the twelfth century, an idea of the painter’s conception can be formed. He seems to have been the creator of a Chinese type of Kwanyin, the Buddhist incarnation of mercy and charity.

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