Chan Buddhism and Art


Chan-Buddhist themes and motifs
Chinese Art

Chan Buddhist Art in China During The Tang Dynasty (618-907)

Wang Wei (699–759), a universal Chinese genius, was a great poet, painter, calligrapher, musician, innovator, art critic, and also successful courtier and statesman.
Не has been regarded as the founder and patriarch of the Southern School of Chinese landscape art, honored as the prototype of Wen ren hua (literati painting). It was unique painting styles and ideal form of the Chinese scholar-painter or poet – painter, which was finally codified by the Chan Buddhist poet, painter, and critic Su Shi 1037 -1101) and critic and painter Dong Qichang (1555-1636).
In so doing, Su Shi described his works: “The quality of Wang Wei’s poems can be summed as, the poems hold a painting within them. In observing his paintings you can see that, within the painting there is poetry.”
In Wang Wei’s poetry and painting shone through the basic Chan Buddhist ideas of sudden enlightenment and direct comprehension and experience of beauty and ultimate truth. All his works reflected profound Chan Buddhist meanings of initial Buddhahood of all beings and deep spiritual unity of man and nature, and embodied aesthetic ideals of refined simplicity, purity, profound grace and subtlety, artlessness, inner freedom and spontaneity.
Due to his firm commitment to Chan Buddist teaching, Wang has received title the Poet Buddha.


Visiting Hsiang-Chi Temple
Unknown, Hsiang-chi Temple—
miles and miles into cloud-draped peaks.
Among the old trees, a path no one travels,
a bell deep in the mountains but where from?
A brook gulps among protruding boulders,
and though the sun glows, it’s cool beneath the pines.
At dusk, by a bend in an empty pool,
meditating quietly I rout the deadly dragon.A Song of an Autumn Night
Under the crescent moon a light autumn dew
Has chilled the robe she will not change —
And she touches a silver lute all night,
Afraid to go back to her empty room.

Huazi Ridge

Fly bird go no limit
Join mountain again autumn colour
Up down Huazi Ridge
Melancholy feeling what extreme.

In The Hills

White rocks jutting from Ching stream
The weather’s cold, red leaves few
No rain at all on the paths in the hills
Clothes are wet with the blue air.

Birds Calling in the Ravine
I’m idle, as osmanthus flowers fall,
This quiet night in spring, the hill is empty.
The moon comes out and
startles the birds on the hill,
They don’t stop calling in the spring ravine.

In A Retreat Among Bamboos
Leaning alone in the close bamboos,
I am playing my lute and humming a song
Too softly for anyone to hear —
Except my comrade, the bright moon.


Wang Wei. Snowscapes along Yangtze river (長江積雪圖).
Part of the unrolling scroll

Wang Wei. Snowscapes along Yangtze river (長江積雪圖).
Part of the unrolling scroll

Wang Wei. Snowscapes along Yangtze river (長江積雪圖).
Part of the unrolling scroll

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907 – 960)

Shi-ke (? -976) – Buddhist monks, artists and painters

Shi Ke. The Second Patriarch in Contemplation (二祖調心圖)

Shi Ke. The Second Patriarch in Contemplation (二祖調心圖) 
Two hanging scrolls, ink on paper, 35.3 x 64.4 cm, Tokyo National Museum

Chan Painting During The Song Dynasty (960 – 1279)

During Song dynasty , divided into periods Northern (960 – 1127) and Southern Song (1127 – 1279), Ch’an painting was finally formed as an independent artistic phenomenon.
Its outstanding representatives were Su Shi (1037 – 1101), Mi Fu (1051-1107), Li Tang (1050 – 1130), Liu Sunnyan (ca.1150 – after 1225), Ma Yuan (ca.1160-1225) and Xia Gui (ca. 1180-1230), and especially Buddhist monks, artists and painters Liang Kai (1140 – 1220), Yin Yu-chien (1127-1219) and Mu Qi (ca. 1210-1270).

Northern Song  dynasty  (960 – 1127)

In the Northern Song  famous poet and artist Su Shi (1037 – 1101) and his friends and disciples  Wen Tong (1018 – 1079) and Mi Fu (1052-1107), as well as Li Gonglin (1040 – 1106) and Mi Youren  (1086-1165) continued the tradition of the Wang Wei  school “literati painting” (文人画, wenrenhua or  wen-jen-hua), which was coined and finally codified by the critic and painter Dong Qichang (1555 -1636).

Su Shi (January 8, 1037 – August 24, 1101), also known as Su Tungpo, was a Chinese writer, poet, painter and calligrapher

Su Shi.  Ancient Tree with Rock
Fu Xinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 3: Liang Song huihua, shang (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988), plate 25, p. 51.

Mi Fu (C. 米芾 or 米黻; 1051–1107) was a Chinese painter, poet, and calligrapher

Mi Fu.  
Mountains and Pines in Spring (Part),
National Palace Museum (Taipei)

 Mi Youren (1074 -1151) was a Chinese artist, the son of famous artist Mi Fu (1052–1107)

  Mi Youren.  Landscape

南宋 米友仁 雲山圖 卷 (Part)

Mi Youren. Cloudy Mountains 南宋 米友仁 雲山圖 卷

 Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279)

A special contribution to the development of landscape painting during the early Southern Song period made such brilliant members of artistic association “Four Masters of Southern Song”, as Li Tang (1050 – 1130), Liu Songnian (ca. 1150–after 1225) ), Ma Yuan (ca.1160-1225 ) and Xia Gui (ca. 1180-1230).
Ma Yuan (ca.1160-1225) and Xia Gui (c. 1180-1230), who created  their own original individual style of painting “Ma-Xia” that is, “the style of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui.”

Ma Yuan (馬遠, ca. 1160–1225) was an Chinese landscape painter

Ma Yuan.  Viewing the Moon under a Pine TreeMa Yuan. Viewing the MoonMa Yuan.
Snowy Landscape


Ma Yuan. Studies of the properties of water (One of 12 parts)

Sergey Markov

To be continued

See more: Artistic principles and aesthetic ideals of Zen


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