In the valuable series Oxford History of Art you can find
the 1997 publication Art in China by Craig Clunas. The 255 pages of his
volume give an introduction to art in the tomb from the neolithic age to the
year 650 CE, art at court from the Tang dynasty to the late Qing Court, art in
the temple from the early Buddhist Art to the religious art of the Qing as
well as an essay on art in the life of the elite. This article focuses e.g. on
calligraphy as an elite art. The final chapter of the book is dedicated to
art in the market-place from the Song dynasty to present-day China.
Craig Clunas deliberately called his introductory study Art
in China and not Chinese Art because Chinese art unifies very different types
of objects made at very different times which make it a very changing and unstable subject. Even dynasties such
as Tang or Ming do not form an entity. Excavations reveal a much more disparate,
heterogeneous and less ethnically pure ancient China than many art lovers are
used to think of.
The "Terracotta Army" of the First Emperor of Qin,
d.210 BCE. Photograph: Art in China.
Porcelain bowl, made for the Ming imperial court
Xuande reign, 1426-35 CE.
Photograph: Art in China.
It is of course impossible to cover all aspects of art in
China during more than 5,000 years in such a small book, but some weak
points must be addressed. The reader does not learn much about the Xia
dynasty (2205-1818 BC), besides its name. There is no article on erotic
art. There is no picture of e.g. a
Tang horse, one of the best-known forms of art in China. Still, Craig
Clunas has written a basic introduction embracing a huge diversity of
forms of art, including jade, lacquer, porcelain, painted scrolls and
fans, sculptures in stone, bronze and wood, calligraphy and murals, based
on recent studies. Art
in China also includes a short bibliographic essay, a timeline and