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Chinese art

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Chinese artists have always paid much attention to the depiction of nature in general and landscape in particular. It is explained by the specific features of traditional Chinese culture and religion, such as attentiveness to details, focus on the reflections and meditations, etc. All these aspects urged the artists to look for inspiration in the surrounding natural world, with mountains, trees and rivers being even more important characters than people. The two paintings that will be analyzed in the current essay are Traveling amid Mountains and Gorges by Fan Kuan (c. 960) and On a Mountain Path in Spring (c. 1195) by Ma Yuan. These two works of art are characterized by different compositional approaches, but are quite similar in terms of rendering the symbolic nature of the surrounding world.

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Traveling amid Mountains and Gorges

The two paintings are quite different in terms of their composition organization and balance. It can be explained by a number of different factors, with the size of these paintings being one of the most important parameters. The work of Fan Kuan is significantly larger (206 x 103.3 cm) than Ma Yuans painting (27.4 x 47.1 cm). This difference in scale made artists use a different set of tools and methods that would be appropriate and efficient in communicating the message of the artwork to the audience. Moreover, Traveling amid Mountains and Gorges is a hanging scroll that should be arranged vertically, whereas On a Mountain Path in Spring is painted with the same tools (ink and color on silk), but on an album sheet. This difference also has a great impact on the composition of these works.

The painting created by Fan Kuan depicts an impressive landscape that is dominated by a huge mountain covered in woods. The mountain occupies almost two thirds of the painting. The bottom part of the scroll features a windy road that goes through the trees, which are quite similar to those growing on top of the mountain. The composition of Ma Yuans painting is completely different. First of all, it is not as proportionally balanced as the other painting. Nearly all visual elements of this work are located in the left half of the album sheet. The only thing that attracts the audience attention in the right half is the poem that is written closer to the top. Even the figure of a man that is the focal point of the painting is off-centered. This approach to composition makes On a Mountain Path in Spring a more fragile painting that reflects the beauty of a brief moment and not the power and strength of eternal mountains (like in the Fan Kuans painting), which in most cultures including China are considered to be the symbol of stability and power.

However, both artists were very attentive to the peculiarities of the landscapes in an attempt to render the very nature of the scenes. Although they express different views, their main message is quite similar the nature is worth being admired, loved and protected. The artists also communicate the message about the diversity of nature that can be both powerful as in the artwork by Fan Kuan or tender and elusive as in Ma Yuans painting.

Portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun

Portraiture is a very complex and multidimensional field of art as rendering of both physical and psychological aspects of human nature is an extremely difficult task that requires the painter to have deep and profound knowledge of anatomy, psychology and other sciences. Portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun created by an unknown artist in 1238 and Liang Kais Sixth Patriarch Chopping Bamboo created in the 13th century share the common theme and represent bright examples of how different the approaches to portraiture can be even if the painters worked during approximately the same period of time (Song dynasty).

Both paintings depict a man with a minimal surrounding. Portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun is about two times larger (123.8 x 55.2 cm) than Liang Kais work (72.7 x 31.5 cm), but the proportion of the sides is approximately the same. However, it is obvious that these two artists employ absolutely different approaches to portraiture. The unknown artist who created the portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun is deeply concerned about the details and focuses on very careful and elaborate rendering of the mans face, body, clothes and the chair he is sitting on. Perhaps, it required a very long work as the painter needed much time to create the complex ornaments, render the three-dimensionality of the mans clothes and use paint to add color to all of these elements. On the contrary, while painting the man working with bamboo sticks, Liang Kai focused on expressiveness and simplicity. These two principles make this painting look fresh as the artist did not try to render as many details as possible, but decided to convey only the atmosphere and uniqueness of the brief moment captured in the painting. The man who chops the bamboo is painted with expressive brushstrokes and minimum of details in clothes. In contrast to Portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun that is painted on silk, not on paper as Liang Kais work, it is not possible to clearly see the face of the man. It is evident that he is old, but his emotions are not understandable. Therefore, in case of Liang Kais artwork, the man primarily stands for his actions, whereas the author of Portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun treats the man in terms of his appearance that symbolizes his economic and social status. It can be also explained by the fact that the portrait painted by the unknown artist depicts a prominent Zen Buddhist monk who is respected by numerous Chinese people. Therefore, the painter wanted to highlight the status of this person by going into details and making his clothes look rich and impressive.

To conclude, these two portraits have more differences than similarities, although they were both created during the same period and depict a man without much focus on the background of the painting. However, the artists approaches differ in terms of rendering the details, choice of colors and type of brushstrokes, among others. These dissimilarities demonstrate absolutely different atmosphere and deliver different messages Portrait of the Chan Abbot Wuzhun speaks about the wealth and status of the person while Sixth Patriarch Chopping Bamboo is focused on rendering the dynamics of human actions.

Wen Zhengming

The two paintings under discussion are Wen Zhengmings Flying Cascades in a Pine- Filled Ravine painted around 1530 and Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk created by Emperor Huizong who lived from 1082 till 1135. The paintings are of almost the same size, but one of them is vertical and the other one is horizontal. Flying Cascades in a Pine- Filled Ravine is vertical and depicts a very elaborate landscape with mountains and trees, whereas the second work of art portraits a routine episode from the womens life arranged in a simple horizontal composition. In this regard, the main difference between these paintings is the way the artists used colors and shapes to communicate their messages to the audience.

Both paintings created with the use of ink and colors on silk are quite similar in terms of the methods and general principles applied by the artists in the process of creating these works of art, but they produce very different impressions and are devoted to the analysis of different themes. These aspects stipulate the differences in terms of the specific artistic methods used by the painters in each case. Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk is painted with the use of a larger variety of colors than Wen Zhengmings work. The women are dressed in clothes of different colors that are also decorated with complex patterns and ornaments. The figures of the women working with the silk are depicted on the brown background, which makes them more expressive and bright. It is especially true for the white silk that seems to shine due to the contrast with a much darker background. In contrast to this work, Wen Zhengmings painting is much softer and delicate in terms of the color scheme. It is painted in grey and blue colors with sporadic adding of brown. In general, the atmosphere of the landscape is much colder and pessimistic than in the hand scroll painted by Emperor Huizong.

Wen Zhengming and Emperor Huizong also treated shapes in their paintings in a different way. Wen Zhengmings work is full of small details as, for example, the tiny stones in the mountains and at the foreground. To render these details the artist used small shapes with rough edges. Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk almost entirely consists of dense and heavy shapes, such as the carpets, on which women are sitting, their clothes, etc. Such approach to rendering shapes is not very typical for traditional Chinese art, but in this painting it is organically connected with some classical elements the popular linear composition, overlapping of figures and others. It makes the painting rather creative and innovative, but at the same time does not let this artwork break the basic traditions that were appreciated at the times of the Song dynasty.

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All things considered, these two paintings prove that colors and shapes play a very important role in art and can completely change the nature and atmosphere of the image. Although there are many other differences between these artworks, different approaches to rendering shapes and choosing colors are crucial in terms of both visual and cultural messages.

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