Chinese art has given world culture many unique masterpieces, including those created by masters who lived during the reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The art of China at that time developed against the background of the restoration of the country’s independence after the expulsion of the Mongol invaders from it. The Ming dynasty emperors for several centuries pursued a policy of self-isolation from the rest of the world, including in the cultural sphere, which led to the rapid development of all Chinese crafts.
Chinese art during the Ming Empire was largely focused on the revival of local traditions, many of which fell into decay during the reign of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. It was a fertile era of cultural restoration and renewal of the country, which gave the world a huge number of beautiful works of art.
Timeline of the reign of the Ming dynasty emperors
The art of China at all times has experienced a serious influence of the authorities. The rulers of the country established strict rules in all spheres of society, and local artists were constantly under the control of the state within the framework of a system of cultural control.
For 276 years, 16 emperors of the Ming Dynasty ruled China: Yuanzhang Zhu (Zhu Yuanzhang) (1368-1398).
- Yunwen Zhu (Zhu Yunwen) (1398-1402).
- Di Zhu (Zhu Di) (1402-1424).
- Gaochi Zhu (1424-1425).
- Zhu Zhanji (1425-1435).
- Qizhen Zhu (Zhu Qizhen) (1435-1449).
- Zhu Qiyu (1449-1457).
- Qizhen Zhu (Zhū Qízhēn) (1457-1464).
- Jianshen Zhu (Zhū Jiànshēn) (1464-1487).
- Yutan Zhu (Zhū Yòutáng) (1487-1505).
- Houzhao Zhu (Zhū Hòuzhào) (1505-1521).
- Houtsun Zhu (Zhū Hòucōng) (1521-1567).
- Zaihou Zhu (Zhū Zàijì) (1567-1572).
- Yijun Zhu (Zhū Yìjūn) (1572-1620).
- Changlo Zhu (Zhū Chángluò) (1620).
- Yujiao Zhu (Zhū Yóujiào) (1620-1627).
- Yujian Zhu (Zhu Youjian) (1627-1644).
An isolationist foreign policy and massive corruption were ultimately the main causes of the Ming empire’s decline. As a result of a long peasant uprising, the dynasty was overthrown from the throne, and the Manchu leaders seized power, who founded the new Qing empire.
Features of Chinese art of the Ming Dynasty
The times of the Ming Dynasty were marked by many achievements in cultural life, and the most significant changes affected the traditional areas of Chinese art:
In addition, masters in the manufacture of expensive silk clothing and all kinds of lacquerware have achieved significant success.
The unique palace ensemble “Forbidden City” in Beijing is rightfully considered to be the greatest masterpiece of architecture of the Ming Empire. It was built in 1404-1420 by order of Emperor Zhu Di. The grandiose construction lasted 15 years, on which more than a million workers worked. Hundreds of thousands of artisans (mainly stone and wood carvers) were involved in the manufacture of the luxurious decor of the palaces.
The unique rectangular complex has a huge size 961×753 meters, it consists of 980 buildings and is the object of national pride of the Chinese people. The Forbidden City is built of wood, terraces are made of stone, and the floors of the largest halls are paved with baked clay bricks.
Emperor Zhu Di immortalized his name in history with another architectural masterpiece. He ordered the construction of the second “Forbidden City” on Mount Wudangshan, as well as numerous temple complexes. The structures cover a huge area of the mountainside and surrounding peaks, and their total length is 80 kilometers.
A significant event in the field of art during the Ming Dynasty was the revival of the court Academy of Painting at the beginning of the 15th century. The masters who worked in it strictly adhered to classical traditions, the ancient genre of “flowers and birds” invariably remained the main theme of their work.
The most famous court painters of that time are:
- Bian Jingzhao;
- Lü Ji;
- Lin Liang.
Far from the capital of the empire, in those days, numerous schools of painting were created, where artists had more freedom for creative self-expression.
The most famous are:
- Wu School in Suzhou;
- Zhe School in Zhejiang;
- Huatin school from the city of the same name.
Artists independent of the court mainly specialized in landscape themes in their work. In addition, erotic painting developed successfully, and realistic funeral portraits were also very popular with customers.
Many paintings in those days contained not only artistic images, but also inscriptions from hieroglyphs. Therefore, almost all famous masters of the Ming era have thoroughly mastered the ancient art of calligraphy and contributed in every way to its development.
Chinese porcelain of the Ming dynasty
Chinese porcelain of the Ming dynasty is rightfully recognized as the best by most specialists in this field, although the technology of its production was invented by local craftsmen back in the 6th century BC. All kinds of products with a characteristic underglaze blue painting were not only successfully sold in China itself, but also were an important part of exports to other countries in Southeast Asia. And since the beginning of the 16th century, porcelain from China gained immense popularity in Europe, where many monarchs and representatives of the elite families of society collected it.
It was during the reign of Emperor Zhu Di that the tradition of marking the best samples of porcelain with special stamps appeared, and the huge demand for ceramics contributed to the emergence of dozens of new manufactories that exported finished products until the middle of the 17th century. The fall of the Ming Dynasty was a terrible disaster for the porcelain industry. During the long wars, most of the ancient furnaces were destroyed, knowledge was lost, and the craftsmen were killed.
Among other art forms of the Ming era, the flourishing of the production of ceremonial silk clothes, covered with magnificent embroidered patterns, should also be noted. Numerous articles of chasers, woodcarvers and stone carvers, made by unknown masters of that time, have also survived.