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Tomb Murals of the Tang Dynasty

Tomb Murals of the Tang Dynasty

Murals stand high among Tang Dynasty paintings, so high that the best painters of the dynasty invariably devoted most of their time and energy to 87 production of murals for decoration of palace structures and Buddhist and Taoist shrines. It is said that Wu Daozi (about 685-758), known throughout the centuries as the “sage of the traditional Chinese painting”, did murals in more than 300 temples in Chang’an and Luoyang, the dynasty’s capital cities. Tang Dynasty murals in palaces and temples are no longer seen. Tomb murals, however, have survived to our time, enabling us to “see” for ourselves how life once looked like in China.

Murals of the highest artistic value are found in tombs of the dynasty’s princes and princesses, including the tombs of Li Chongrun, the crown prince of Emperor Zhong Zong, Li Xianhui, the emperor’s daughter, and Li Xian, the second eldest son of Empress Wu Zetian. What merits special mention is the tomb of Li Chongrun, which is of the same design and size as an emperor’s tomb and is therefore larger and more important than the other two tombs. Done by imperial painters, murals in all these tombs are beautiful while individualizing the artistic styles of different painters. Those in the tomb of Li Xian, or Prince Zhang Huai, feature a beauty of artistic simplicity. In comparision, those in the tomb of Li Chongrun, or Crown Prince Yi De, feature smooth, delicate lines and minute attention to details, with a large, splendid guard of honor highlighting his status. Those in the tomb of Li Xianhui, or Princess Yong Tai, portray a group of life-like court ladies. They are the best in terms of artistic techniques.

Tomb murals of the Tang Dynasty can be divided into two categories – those highlighting the guard of honor and other symbols of the tomb occupiers’ status, and those depicting palace attendants and court ladies. Whatever is portrayed on them, they are among the best Tang Dynasty paintings we are still able to see. The Blue Dragon and White Tiger, huge in size, are invariably painted on walls of the tunnels leading to the chambers where the coffins are placed. Besides, an astronomical chart is done on the dome of each tomb.

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