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Chinese Sculpture

The magnificent life-size terra cotta statues of men and horses, discovered in the early 1970s in the tomb of an emperor who died in 210 BC, provide some indication of the long history of Chinese sculpture. After the introduction of Buddhism into China, Buddhist subjects became dominant themes of the sculptor's art.

Perhaps best known (and most copied) in the West, however, are the works of Chinese decorative artists, such as pottery, bronzes, lacquer ware, and exquisitely detailed jade and ivory carvings.

The Chinese were master craftsmen and produced fine sculpture, especially in bronze. Although bronze casting existed a thousand years earlier, it was in the Chou period (1122-221 BC) that China developed the art to its peak.
This is evident in the great ceremonial vessels used by the nobility for ancestor worship. From tombs of the Han Empire (202 BC-AD 220) have come a rich variety of clay figures of people, animals, and household utensils designed to make life comfortable in the next world. Other objects are wrought in bronze, inlaid with silver and gold, and elaborately ornamented with abstract and fanciful designs. Carvings in jade and bas-reliefs on tomb walls also reached a high degree of excellence.

The prosperous Tang Dynasty (618-907) developed Buddhist art to its highest level. Stone was a favorite medium for religious sculpture, and iron replaced bronze in the casting of figures. The glazed terra-cotta figures of this period are especially fine.

With the decline of Buddhism in the Song period (960-1279), Chinese sculpture lost its vigor. Nevertheless, interesting works continued to be produced, such as the Bodhisattvas.



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