A COLLECTION OF FAMOUS PAINTINGS

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As early as the Neolithic age, the prehistoric inhabitants of China began to paint on the ceramic vessels they made. Their creations ranged in features from lively to sedate as well as from free to restrained. During the Hsia, Shang, and Chou dynasties (20th to 3rd centuries BC) of early China, artisans revealed considerable skill in producing an amazing variety of designs and images on bronzes, jades, ceramics, and textiles. During the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), pictorial art was rendered on stone, walls, and silk. Bold representations of figures, birds, and animals formed the main subject matter, and the solemn style was suited to the didactic notion then of art as a medium to "instruct and moralize."
From the 3rd to 6th century, the concept of "art for art's sake" gradually arose. Figure painting was imbued with an air of elegance and refined beauty that was also sometimes free and unchecked by convention. As Buddhism took hold in China, monasteries and temples increasingly dotted the landscape. Combined with the Taoist affinity for Nature and the Confucian ideal of reclusion after serving society, artists increasingly turned their attention to the land as inspiration for conveying the idea of spiritual freedom among mountains and rivers. From the 3rd to 6th century, the concept of
The repertoire of subject matter expanded in the T'ang dynasty (618-907) as figure painting flourished and reached a high point in the history of Chinese art. The repertoire of subject matter expanded in the T'ang dynasty (618-907) as figure painting flourished and reached a high point in the history of Chinese art. Landscape as a genre matured; forms were carefully drawn with rich colors, hence the term "gold and blue-and-green landscapes." The technique of applying washes of monochrome ink also developed in which images were captured with abbreviated, suggestive forms. The rise of monochrome ink painting formed the basis for the later distinction between the Northern (fine lines and colors) and Southern (expressive ink strokes) Schools. During the late T'ang and Five Dynasties period (907-960), great advances were made in bird-and-flower and animal painting. Two major schools also formed in bird-and-flower painting; a rich and opulent style versus an untrammeled mode of representing natural wilderness.

Sung (960-1279) artists continued to pursue the beauty of the landscape. Whether it be the rugged peaks of northern China or the misty rolling hills of the south, painters created scenes in which viewers could travel, gaze, wander, and dwell. In bird-and-flower, animal, and figure painting, artists not only accurately rendered outer forms but also captured the essence of the spirit, forming an underlying principle for the period style.

Sung (960-1279) artists continued to pursue the beauty of the landscape. Whether it be the rugged peaks of northern China or the misty rolling hills of the south

In the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), painters turned even further to ideas in art. Scholar-artists led the way with their expressive use of brush and ink, and they were well-suited to transmitting ideas and feelings with their calligraphic manner. Their style is often characterized by simplicity, understatement, and transcendent elegance.

After the founding of the Ming (1368-1644), the Yuan scholar style continued, but the manner of ink-wash painting practiced at the Sung court became popular. By the middle of the Ming, the elegance of Yuan scholar painting was again admired.

In the late Ming and early Ch'ing (1644-1911), scholar painting flourished even more as two approaches arose. One involved artists learning to paint through careful copying of ancient models, while the other involved abandoning models in favor of individual creativity. By the middle Ch'ing, the latter gained popularity. In the late Ch'ing, research on ancient inscriptions in stone and bronze influenced painting, further instilling it with renewed vigor.

In the late Ming and early Ch'ing (1644-1911),