BEAUTIES AND HEROES: LEGENDS AND STORIES IN CHINESE ART

Legends and stories have been represented in houses, temples and tombs for more than 2000 years in China. These images of beauties and heroes are not realistic portraits, but illustrate scenes of classic literature, frozen moments of theatrical plays, or snapshots of imaginary worlds in folklore. Many of these paintings serve a similar function to traditional Chinese performance art to teach history and moral standards. Some are closely connected to festivals, such as the New Year celebration, as a way to bring good fortune.

These paintings are designed to be read, not only as iconography but also literally, with the help of inscribed poetry, quotations from literature, or artists’ scholarly comments. The visual-textual tradition of representation also goes beyond China to other East Asian cultures, and remains one of the major differences from Western art.

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