Chinese painting and calligraphy: formats

The earliest surviving Chinese paintings are found on silk funerary banners of the second century BC. Wall paintings and rubbings of figural scenes from stone bas-reliefs are known from the second century AD. From the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), the Chinese have inscribed important scholarly and religious texts on stone, then used damp, absorbent paper to make rubbings. This was used as a means of reproduction before the invention of printing in the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). Rubbings were also important in the training of calligraphy, since scholars could learn from copies by the great masters.

The most common formats in Chinese painting and calligraphy are the hanging scroll, the handscroll, the album leaf and the fan painting. The vertical hanging scroll was meant to be viewed by a group of people together, and was used for large landscapes and figure compositions. The handscroll was suited to a small group to unroll and read section by section, from right to left. The painting and subject matter were often more delicate than that of the other formats. The album contained a series of leaves by a single artist, or works on a related theme by several artists. Fan paintings, either the round or folding arc-shaped type, showed genre subjects in an unusual compositional format.

In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), paintings on glass were produced, mainly for export (though the Qianlong emperor (1735-95) received some as gifts). The picture was viewed from the front, but painted from the back, a technique also used on inside-painted snuff bottles.

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