History of Sumi-e – Art an Painting in China in the Golden Age – Han Dynasty

The Impact of Secular Developments on Chinese Painting: The Han Dynasty

Until the Han Dynasty (210 – 220 BCE) painting were mostly of religious nature and showed either Daoist scenes, rituals connected to ancestor worship, or illustrations of Confucian moral themes. These religious or philosophic motifs were not abandoned in the Han Dynasty – mural paintings in particular include depictions of higher beings such as guardian spirits. These pictures are often executed on tiles or bricks; contemporary documents also state that the walls of palaces, halls and houses were covered with paintings. The growing economical expansion and contacts to foreign travelers through the Silk Road caused artists to depict scenes from daily life in this flourishing period merchants, artisans, even slaves and soldiers were illustrated in figure paintings. This variety in themes and motifs was not only limited to painting, but other kind of art as well, such as pottery or lacquerware.

The fall of the Han Dynasty, together with the breakdown of the Confucian system, caused people to return to either Daoism or convert to Buddhism. The introduction of the latter in the 4th century CE caused another expansion of topics, and paintings now included depictions of the Buddhist pantheon.