Being younger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia China however maintained the continuance of traditions and has its own steady path.
The collection of Chinese art in museum includes more than twenty thousand of items. The most significant of them are presented at exhibition and are showing the development of Chinese culture in chronological order.
The historiography of China is based on the dynastic principle. The art section of ancient China presents works from the Shang (16-12 centuries BC), Zhou (12-5 centuries BC), Zhanguo (or the Warring States period) (V - III centuries BC) and Han (206 BC - 220 AD) periods.
A special worldview, based on the dualistic concept of being, has been formed in China since ancient times. The Chinese believed that the harmony of the universe was created by Yin and Yang (Earth and Sky, female and male aspects of the Universe).
The image of a dragon with a "luminous pearl", as well as combination of geometric shapes, in particular a circle and a square, have become the embodiment of this interaction. The idea of a harmonious state of the world was embodied by the leiwen pattern (largely resembling the antique meander), as well as the Eight Trigrams bagua (combinations of broken and continuous lines). These decorative elements can be seen on bronze and stone vessels of ancient Chinese art. Among the exhibits are Gu vessel of the Shang period for the libation of the offering wine (Fig. 1), Zun vessels of a square vase-like form, made of a sacred jade with trigrams, symbolizing the Earth, and round Bi jade disks of the Zhanguo period (Fig. 2).
In the section of the Han period art the most prominent are the pieces of funeral plastic art, depicting people of different occupations, and samples of early ceramics with a green glaze.
A unique piece of art is the terracotta Taoist head with a three-legged toad (Fig. 3). The tradition of creating funeral terracotta plastics continued in the Middle Ages, in the Tang period (7th-10th centuries), when after several centuries of fragmentation the country was united into a powerful empire.
This period is associated with the spread of Buddhism (which merges with traditional doctrines of Taoism and Confucianism), the construction of temple complexes and pagodas, the advent of printing, the first samples of porcelain (unfortunately, missing in our collection). The art of ceramics was being improved, as evidenced by the images of warriors, noble court ladies, camels and horses, created in the technique of terracotta plastic and decorated with paintings.
At the exhibition there is a Buddhist sculpture made of bronze of the 4th century, when the Buddhist artistic canon began to be formed in China. You can also see a wooden statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist deity of compassion, made of wood in the 10th-12th centuries (Fig. 4).
Ceramics of the Song period (10th – 13th centuries) is of particular importance in the Chinese culture. It reflects aesthetic and philosophical principles of Chan Buddhism and Taoism, based on the comprehension of the laws of existence not in a logical, but in an intuitive way.
The artistic image of these items reflects the idea of "incompleteness" and "naturalness", which is shown in deliberately uneven outlines and bizarre drips of glaze. There are pieces of different styles, such as longquan, cizhou, jun, which have their own stylistic and technological features (Fig. 5).
China is a homeland of porcelain, which was called "Chinese secret" in Europe until the 18th century. The production of porcelain, having been developed over centuries, reached its perfection in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) periods. Pieces, painted with underglaze blue cobalt, have been produced since the 14th century. Later the color palette became more sophisticated, supplemented with the use of polychrome enamels and iron paints. A number of represented items are decorated in "famille verte", "famille noire" and "famille rose" colour schemes (Fig.6).
Classic Chinese painting is represented by horizontal and vertical scrolls, as well as album pages.
Yet the creative methods of Chinese artists varied: they worked in the technique of monochrome ink painting, as well as in polychrome watercolour painting. They used the gongbi («diligent brush») style. It was in this manner that an artist Yun Shouping (1633-1690) created a series of album pages in a "bird-and-flower painting" style (Fig. 7).
The landscape in the "dry ink" style by Zha Shibiao (1615-1698) is a true masterpiece, in which master conveys the feeling of transparency of the autumn air, a light movement of leafless tree branches. Among horizontal scrolls, the work of an outstanding artist of the XVI century Qiu Ying "Poem about the abandoned wife" stands out.
Calligraphy, i.e. "the art of beautiful writing", was highly esteemed in China. The composition of Zhu Yunming, made in caoshu cursive script, is distinguished by the expressiveness of lines, the contrast comparison of rich strokes and cursory strokes of a dry brush (Fig. 8).
In one of the sections Chinese official costume of the Qing period is represented.
There are robes, decorated with cosmological symbols, square rank badges (large embroidered badges with a detailed colourful animal or bird, which served as insignia, indicating the rank of an official wearing it), women's Chinese and Manchu dress, created in a kesi technique of silk tapestry which are decorated with complex embroidery (Fig. 9).
Necklaces, silver hair ornaments, cases for long nails, which complemented the costume, are also on display.
Chinese snuff boxes – bottles for snuff, created in the 18th and 19th centuries from a variety of materials, such as stone, porcelain, glass. The most remarkable are items of glass, painted from the inside through a narrow neck with tiny brushes. (Fig. 10).
In the lacquerware section you can find carved "Beijing" lacquer, painted Cantonese and Fuzhou" disembodied" lacquer (i.e. having the thinnest fabric base). Chinese cloisonne and painted enamels, carved ivory, beautiful wood and stone carvings are widely represented at the exhibition (Fig. 11).
The samples of Chinese national Guohua painting, created by the brilliant masters of the 20th century Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong and Fu Baoshi, are the evidence of the preservation of the best classical traditions.