While there is evidence of artistic activity in India from the eighth millennium BC, for much of its history, the art and culture of the Indian sub-continent was focused on three closely inter-related religions--Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Secular works of art are relatively rare and much of the early Indian art that has survived was used to build, decorate, and equip temples and monasteries. Finely carved stone sculpture and reliefs depicting Hindu deities and scenes from the Buddha's life are common, as is beautifully worked bronze and terracotta pieces.
Japanese culture has often been influenced by that of mainland Asia, but this should not obscure the significant indigenous styles and rich regional traditions created and developed in Japan. Shinto, the "way of the gods", was one of the strongest influences on the development of Japanese culture. With its emphasis on love and respect for the natural world, ancestors, and craftsmanship, and on the inseparability of the physical and the spiritual, it played a major role in the development of ideas and techniques. Like Japan, Korean culture integrated outside sources, with the art and culture of Korea typified by an effortless grace and vitality apparent from the earliest times. Perhaps the finest expression of Korean art is the ceramics of the Koryo Dynasty (AD 918-1392), in particular the celebrated stoneware with celadon glazes of almost unequalled warmth and depth.
South Asia, 10th century, Cahamana (?)
Probably from Rajasthan, India
This figure of a four-armed Indian goddess came from the wall of an Indian temple and was probably set in an elaborately carved niche. The representation of the female form is not intended to be naturalistic but rather follows the ideal conventions reserved for deities; these ideals are distorted by the loss of the head, feet and several arms and also by the detachment of the piece from its architectural setting. Before coming to the British Museum, this figure was in the studio of Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) a modern sculptor whose work enjoyed wide popularity in the 1920s.
South Asia, 2ndcentury, Kushan
From ancient Gandhāra, Takht-i-Bahi, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan
This standing Buddha is from ancient Gandhāra, the region around Taxila and Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The area was a major centre of Buddhism under the Kushan rulers. During the time of king Kanishka (c. 126-151), the likely date of this image, the Fourth Council was convened, an event which laid the foundation for the spread of Buddhism into Central Asia and China.
Tani Bunchō (1763-1840)
Japan, Literati School
Hanging scroll; ink on paper, about 1820s
H119.9, W177.3 cm
1934.7-14.01 (Japanese Painting ADD 90)
In ancient Chinese beliefs dragons are associated with clouds and water and are thought to control the rain. They are seen as ever-changing manifestations of the yang (active) principle. Clouds are also seen as an embodiment of qi, the vital force of the cosmos. Dragons have been frequently portrayed by ink-painters in both China and Japan, famously by the 13th century Chinese painter Chen Rong. Tani Bunchō was a highly eclectic and influential painter working in Edo in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, who mastered a wide variety of historical painting styles from China and Japan. The large size of the present painting suggests it was intended to be hung in a temple.
Japan, Edo Period, 18th century, Kano school
Pair of six-fold screens; ink, colour and gold-leaf on paper
H54.4, W364.0 cm (each)
Given by Sir W. Gwynne-Evans, Bt.
JA1913.5-1.0270, 0271 (Japanese Paintings 1274, 1275)
Birds and flower subjects painted on large-format sliding door (fusuma) and folding screen (byōbu) formats have been a major theme of Japanese painting since at least the Momoyama period (1573-1615). Typically used in gloomy castle, temple or mansion interiors, they are often enlivened with gold-leaf backgrounds, as here. On the right screen a large male pheasant sits on a twisted pine tree, surrounded by plants late spring – camellia, azalea, violets and wild rose. In contrast the left screen presents a winter scene, with white egrets flocking around a weeping-willow tree. Reeds, dwarf bamboo, narcissus and other seasonal plants are all delicately rendered, covered with a dusting of snow. Unsigned, the screens were formerly thought to be by the painter Watanabe Shikō (1683-1755). Recently scholars have suggested a more general attribution to the Kyoto Kano school.