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Painting

Tomb Brick Painting in China

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China: Wei and Tsin
 
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Tomb painting is an art in which China has made some of its highest achievements. The outside world has been made familiar with vast and beautiful tomb murals of Tang and Han dynasties.

Almost 2000 years ago, Chinese were also decorating tombs of the upper class with miniature paintings. Middle Kingdom's artists, at that time, already were masters of aesthetics of space as modern man defines it.

Of China's smaller tomb paintings, the most famous viewable in West are those in the collection of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: A set of painted molded brick tiles. These were found in Eastern (or Later) Han tomb.

in 1971, a tomb near Chiayukuan (in Western Kansu province, one of the principal terminals of ancient Silk Road) was excavated. Some of the relics found were painted bricks, then tentatively identified as of Later Han period vintage: 26 to 220 AD.

In 1972-73, in the same general vicinity but more precisely at a site in Gobi Desert, Northwest of Chiaukuan City, eight brick tombs were excavated, belonging to Wei and Western Tsin dynasties.

Wei dynasty (220-265 AD), one of the states in the celebrated "Epoch of the Three Kingdoms" in Chinese history, was the direct heir of the demised Han.

Tsin, sometimes rendered Chin (265-420AD), was the dynasty which supplanted Wei and finally vanquished the other two of the "Three Kingdoms" that had come to partition China.

All Han tombs that have been dug so far are among China's most ornate. They are often of brick or stone; some made of timber have also been discovered. Most Han tombs are decorated with wall paintings, with sculpted stone or with stamped or molded bricks. 

This tradition was not lost on Wei and Tsin rulling classes, who, as their Han predecessors did, availed themselves of the skill and creativity of artisans and artists from the ranks of the masses they ruled.

More than 600 painted brick tiles, forming part of the inner walls of six of the eight tombs excavated in 1972-73 at Hsincheng People's Commune, near Chiayu Pass, were found. In bright red, vermilion, yellow and black, paintings depict various workaday scenes on North-West China between 278 and 421 AD.

There are paintings of lordly persons being entertained in musical performance, being served by servants, hunting and humbler folk drawing water from well, cooking, farming, raising livestock, gathering mulberry leaves, among others. Some paintings are captioned with Chinese Characters.

The faces show Han Chinese and that particularly Middle Kingdom marriage of Central Asian and Chinese roots already seen in Tang and Han dynasty tomb paintings and statuary.

Sizes of bricks range from squares, 17.2x17 cm (6.88x6.8 in) to the larger pieces, of more than 60x16 cm (24x6.4 in). Bricks in Boston are larger. Thickness ranges from 4 to 5 cm (1.6-2 in).
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