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Paintings   Japanese painting (絵画 kaiga?) is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese visual arts, encompassing a wide variety of genres and styles. As with the history of Japanese arts in general, the long history of Japanese painting exhibits … Continue reading

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Americas Pride

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STATUES The Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde) is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886. American Contemporary Dance Contemporary dance is a genre of concert dance(which is performed to an audience) … Continue reading

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Greek Poets Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have exist. Greek Gods and Goddesses  Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient … Continue reading

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Filipino Pride

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 FILIPINO MADE PAINTINGS  FILIPINO MADE PAINTINGS Many Filipino made paintings excels because of its realistic features its more on showing the Filipino culture and tradition. Early Filipino painting can be found in red slip (clay mixed with water) designs embellished on … Continue reading

Japanese Art

Japanese art covers a wide range of art styles and media, including ancient pottery, sculpture in wood and bronze, ink painting on silk and paper and more recently manga, cartoon, along with a myriad of other types of works of art. It also has a long history, ranging from the beginnings of human habitation in Japan, sometime in the 10th millennium BC, to the present.

Historically, Japan has been subject to sudden invasions of new and alien ideas followed by long periods of minimal contact with the outside world. Over time the Japanese developed the ability to absorb, imitate, and finally assimilate those elements of foreign culture that complemented their aesthetic preferences. The earliest complex art in Japan was produced in the 7th and 8th centuries AD in connection with Buddhism. In the 9th century, as the Japanese began to turn away from China and develop indigenous forms of expression, the secular arts became increasingly important; until the late 15th century, both religious and secular arts flourished. After the Ōnin War (1467–1477), Japan entered a period of political, social, and economic disruption that lasted for over a century. In the state that emerged under the leadership of the Tokugawa shogunate, organized religion played a much less important role in people’s lives, and the arts that survived were primarily secular.

Painting is the preferred artistic expression in Japan, practiced by amateurs and professionals alike. Until modern times, the Japanese wrote with a brush rather than a pen, and their familiarity with brush techniques has made them particularly sensitive to the values and aesthetics of painting. With the rise of popular culture in the Edo period, a style of woodblock prints called ukiyo-e became a major art form and its techniques were fine tuned to produce colorful prints of everything from daily news to schoolbooks. The Japanese, in this period, found sculpture a much less sympathetic medium for artistic expression; most Japanese sculpture is associated with religion, and the medium’s use declined with the lessening importance of traditional Buddhism.

Japanese ceramics are among the finest in the world and include the earliest known artifacts of their culture. In architecture, Japanese preferences for natural materials and an interaction of interior and exterior space are clearly expressed.

Today, Japan rivals most other modern nations in its contributions to modern art, fashion and architecture, with creations of a truly modern, global, and multi-cultural (or acultural) bent.

History of Japanese art

Statuette with Snow Glasses, Jōmon Era

 Jōmon art

The first settlers of Japan, the Jōmon people (c 11000?–c 300 BC), named for the cord markings that decorated the surfaces of their clay vessels, were nomadic hunter-gatherers who later practiced organized farming and built cities with population of hundreds if not thousands. They built simple houses of wood and thatch set into shallow earthen pits to provide warmth from the soil. They crafted lavishly decorated pottery storage vessels, clay figurines called dogu, and crystal jewels.

 Yayoi art

The next wave of immigrants was the Yayoi people, named for the district in Tokyo where remnants of their settlements first were found. These people, arriving in Japan about 350 BC, brought their knowledge of wetland rice cultivation, the manufacture of copper weapons and bronze bells (dōtaku), and wheel-thrown, kiln-fired ceramics.

  Kofun art

Daisen Kofun (5th century) is a grave of the world’s largest class

The third stage in Japanese prehistory, the Kofun, or Tumulus, period (c AD 250–552), represents a modification of Yayoi culture, attributable either to internal development or external force. The period is named for the large amounts kofun created during this period. In this period, diverse groups of people formed political alliances and coalesced into a nation. Typical artifacts are bronze mirrors, symbols of political alliances, and clay sculptures called haniwa which were erected outside tombs.

 Asuka and Nara art

Bodhisattva, Asuka period, 7th century

During the Asuka and Nara periods, so named because the seat of Japanese government was located in the Asuka Valley from 552 to 710 and in the city of Nara until 784, the first significant invasion by Asian continental culture took place in Japan.

The transmission of Buddhism provided the initial impetus for contacts between China, Korea and Japan. The Japanese recognized the facets of Chinese culture that could profitably be incorporated into their own: a system for converting ideas and sounds into writing; historiography; complex theories of government, such as an effective bureaucracy; and, most important for the arts, new technologies, new building techniques, more advanced methods of casting in bronze, and new techniques and media for painting.

Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries, however, the major focus in contacts between Japan and the Asian continent was the development of Buddhism. Not all scholars agree on the significant dates and the appropriate names to apply to various time periods between 552, the official date of the introduction of Buddhism into Japan, and 784, when the Japanese capital was transferred from Nara. The most common designations are the Suiko period, 552–645; the Hakuhō period, 645–710, and the Tenpyō period, 710–784.

Miroku Bosatsu at Chūgū-ji

The earliest Japanese sculptures of the Buddha are dated to the 6th and 7th century.[1] They ultimately derive from the 1st-3rd century CE Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, characterized by flowing dress patterns and realistic rendering,[2] on which Chinese and Korean artistic traits were superimposed. After the Chinese Northern Wei buddhist art had infiltrated a Korean peninsula, Buddhist icons was brought Japan by Korean immigrants.[3] Particularly, the semi-seated Maitreya form was adapted into a highly developed Ancient Greek art style which was transmitted to Japan as evidenced by the Kōryū-ji Miroku Bosatsu and the Chūgū-ji Siddhartha statues.[4] Although many historians portray Korea as a mere transmitter of Buddhism,[5] the Three Kingdoms, and particularly Baekje, were instrumental as active agents in the introduction and formation of a Buddhist tradition in Japan in 538 or 552.[6] They illustrate the terminal point of the Silk Road transmission of Art during the first few centuries of our era. Other examples can be found in the development of the iconography of the Japanese Fūjin Wind God,[7] the Niō guardians,[8] and the near-Classical floral patterns in temple decorations.

Pagoda and Kondō at Hōryū-ji, 8th century

The earliest Buddhist structures still extant in Japan, and the oldest wooden buildings in the Far East are found at the Hōryū-ji to the southwest of Nara. First built in the early 7th century as the private temple of Crown Prince Shōtoku, it consists of 41 independent buildings. The most important ones, the main worship hall, or Kondō (Golden Hall), and Gojū-no-tō (Five-story Pagoda), stand in the center of an open area surrounded by a roofed cloister. The Kondō, in the style of Chinese worship halls, is a two-story structure of post-and-beam construction, capped by an irimoya, or hipped-gabled roof of ceramic tiles.

Inside the Kondō, on a large rectangular platform, are some of the most important sculptures of the period. The central image is a Shaka Trinity (623), the historical Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas, sculpture cast in bronze by the sculptor Tori Busshi (flourished early 7th century) in homage to the recently deceased Prince Shōtoku. At the four corners of the platform are the Guardian Kings of the Four Directions, carved in wood around 650. Also housed at Hōryū-ji is the Tamamushi Shrine, a wooden replica of a Kondō, which is set on a high wooden base that is decorated with figural paintings executed in a medium of mineral pigments mixed with lacquer.

Hokkedō at Tōdai-ji, 8th century

Temple building in the 8th century was focused around the Tōdai-ji in Nara. Constructed as the headquarters for a network of temples in each of the provinces, the Tōdaiji is the most ambitious religious complex erected in the early centuries of Buddhist worship in Japan. Appropriately, the 16.2-m (53-ft) Buddha (completed 752) enshrined in the main Buddha hall, or Daibutsuden, is a Rushana Buddha, the figure that represents the essence of Buddhahood, just as the Tōdaiji represented the center for Imperially sponsored Buddhism and its dissemination throughout Japan. Only a few fragments of the original statue survive, and the present hall and central Buddha are reconstructions from the Edo period.

Clustered around the Daibutsuden on a gently sloping hillside are a number of secondary halls: the Hokke-dō (Lotus Sutra Hall), with its principal image, the Fukukenjaku Kannon (the most popular bodhisattva), crafted of dry lacquer (cloth dipped in lacquer and shaped over a wooden armature); the Kaidanin (Ordination Hall) with its magnificent clay statues of the Four Guardian Kings; and the storehouse, called the Shōsōin. This last structure is of great importance as an art-historical cache, because in it are stored the utensils that were used in the temple’s dedication ceremony in 752, the eye-opening ritual for the Rushana image, as well as government documents and many secular objects owned by the Imperial family.

 Heian art

Taizokai Mandala, Tō-ji owning

In 794 the capital of Japan was officially transferred to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto), where it remained until 1868. The term Heian period refers to the years between 794 and 1185, when the Kamakura shogunate was established at the end of the Genpei War. The period is further divided into the early Heian and the late Heian, or Fujiwara era, the pivotal date being 894, the year imperial embassies to China were officially discontinued.

Early Heian art: In reaction to the growing wealth and power of organized Buddhism in Nara, the priest Kūkai (best known by his posthumous title Kōbō Daishi, 774-835) journeyed to China to study Shingon, a form of Vajrayana Buddhism, which he introduced into Japan in 806. At the core of Shingon worship are mandalas, diagrams of the spiritual universe, which then began to influence temple design. Japanese Buddhist architecture also adopted the stupa, originally an Indian architectural form, in its Chinese-style pagoda.

Pagoda of Murō-ji (800)

The temples erected for this new sect were built in the mountains, far away from the Court and the laity in the capital. The irregular topography of these sites forced Japanese architects to rethink the problems of temple construction, and in so doing to choose more indigenous elements of design. Cypress-bark roofs replaced those of ceramic tile, wood planks were used instead of earthen floors, and a separate worship area for the laity was added in front of the main sanctuary.

The temple that best reflects the spirit of early Heian Shingon temples is the Murō-ji (early 9th century), set deep in a stand of cypress trees on a mountain southeast of Nara. The wooden image (also early 9th c.) of Shakyamuni, the “historic” Buddha, enshrined in a secondary building at the Murō-ji, is typical of the early Heian sculpture, with its ponderous body, covered by thick drapery folds carved in the hompa-shiki (rolling-wave) style, and its austere, withdrawn facial expression.

Pagoda in wayō (和様, “Japanese”) style, Ichijō-ji

Fujiwara art: In the Fujiwara period, Pure Land Buddhism, which offered easy salvation through belief in Amida (the Buddha of the Western Paradise), became popular. This period is named after the Fujiwara family, then the most powerful in the country, who ruled as regents for the Emperor, becoming, in effect, civil dictators. Concurrently, the Kyoto nobility developed a society devoted to elegant aesthetic pursuits. So secure and beautiful was their world that they could not conceive of Paradise as being much different. They created a new form of Buddha hall, the Amida hall, which blends the secular with the religious, and houses one or more Buddha images within a structure resembling the mansions of the nobility.

Byōdōin Phoenix Hall, Uji, Kyoto

The Hō-ō-dō (Phoenix Hall, completed 1053) of the Byōdōin, a temple in Uji to the southeast of Kyoto, is the exemplar of Fujiwara Amida halls. It consists of a main rectangular structure flanked by two L-shaped wing corridors and a tail corridor, set at the edge of a large artificial pond. Inside, a single golden image of Amida (c. 1053) is installed on a high platform. The Amida sculpture was executed by Jōchō, who used a new canon of proportions and a new technique (yosegi), in which multiple pieces of wood are carved out like shells and joined from the inside. Applied to the walls of the hall are small relief carvings of celestials, the host believed to have accompanied Amida when he descended from the Western Paradise to gather the souls of believers at the moment of death and transport them in lotus blossoms to Paradise. Raigō paintings on the wooden doors of the Hō-ō-dō, depicting the Descent of the Amida Buddha, are an early example of Yamato-e, Japanese-style painting, and contain representations of the scenery around Kyoto.

Panel from pictorial scroll of the Tale of Genji, 1130

E-maki: In the last century of the Heian period, the horizontal, illustrated narrative handscroll, known as e-maki (絵巻, lit. “picture scroll”), came to the fore. Dating from about 1130, the illustrated ‘Tale of Genji‘ represents one of the high points of Japanese painting. Written about the year 1000 by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko, the novel deals with the life and loves of Genji and the world of the Heian court after his death. The 12th-century artists of the e-maki version devised a system of pictorial conventions that convey visually the emotional content of each scene. In the second half of the century, a different, livelier style of continuous narrative illustration became popular. The Ban Dainagon Ekotoba (late 12th century), a scroll that deals with an intrigue at court, emphasizes figures in active motion depicted in rapidly executed brush strokes and thin but vibrant colors.

Bandainagon Ekotoba, Tokiwa Mitsunaga, 12th century

E-maki also serve as some of the earliest and greatest examples of the otoko-e (Men’s pictures) and onna-e (Women’s pictures) styles of painting. There are many fine differences in the two styles, appealing to the aesthetic preferences of the genders. But perhaps most easily noticeable are the differences in subject matter. Onna-e, epitomized by the Tale of Genji handscroll, typically deals with court life, particularly the court ladies, and with romantic themes. Otoko-e, on the other hand, often recorded historical events, particularly battles. The Siege of the Sanjō Palace (1160), depicted in the “Night Attack on the Sanjō Palace” section of the Heiji Monogatari handscroll is a famous example of this style.

  Kamakura art

Niō Guardian at the Tōdai-ji (Nara), Unkei, 1203

In 1180 a war broke out between the two most powerful warrior clans, the Taira and the Minamoto; five years later the Minamoto emerged victorious and established a de facto seat of government at the seaside village of Kamakura, where it remained until 1333. With the shift of power from the nobility to the warrior class, the arts had to satisfy a new audience: men devoted to the skills of warfare, priests committed to making Buddhism available to illiterate commoners, and conservatives, the nobility and some members of the priesthood who regretted the declining power of the court. Thus, realism, a popularizing trend, and a classical revival characterize the art of the Kamakura period. In the Kamakura period, Kyoto and Nara remained the centers of artistic production and high culture.

Amitabha Triad at the Jōdo-ji (Ono), Kaikei, 1197

Sculpture: The Kei school of sculptors, particularly Unkei, created a new, more realistic style of sculpture. The two Niō guardian images (1203) in the Great South Gate of the Tōdai-ji in Nara illustrate Unkei’s dynamic supra-realistic style. The images, about 8 m (about 26 ft) tall, were carved of multiple blocks in a period of about three months, a feat indicative of a developed studio system of artisans working under the direction of a master sculptor. Unkei’s polychromed wood sculptures (1208, Kōfuku-ji, Nara) of two Indian sages, Muchaku and Seshin, the legendary founders of the Hossō sect, are among the most accomplished realistic works of the period; as rendered by Unkei, they are remarkably individualized and believable images. One of the most famous works of this period is an Amitabha Triad (completed in 1195), in Jōdo-ji in Ono, created by Kaikei, Unkei’s successor.

Calligraphy and painting: The Kegon Engi Emaki, the illustrated history of the founding of the Kegon sect, is an excellent example of the popularizing trend in Kamakura painting. The Kegon sect, one of the most important in the Nara period, fell on hard times during the ascendancy of the Pure Land sects. After the Genpei War (1180–1185), Priest Myōe of Kōzan-ji sought to revive the sect and also to provide a refuge for women widowed by the war. The wives of samurai had been discouraged from learning more than a syllabary system for transcribing sounds and ideas (see kana), and most were incapable of reading texts that employed Chinese ideographs (kanji).

a part of “Shihon choshoku Kegonshū soshi eden”
(Kegon Engi Emaki), Kōzan-ji owning

Thus, the Kegon Engi Emaki combines passages of text, written with a maximum of easily readable syllables, and illustrations that have the dialogue between characters written next to the speakers, a technique comparable to contemporary comic strips. The plot of the e-maki, the lives of the two Korean priests who founded the Kegon sect, is swiftly paced and filled with fantastic feats such as a journey to the palace of the Ocean King, and a poignant love story.

A work in a more conservative vein is the illustrated version of Murasaki Shikibu’s diary. E-maki versions of her novel continued to be produced, but the nobility, attuned to the new interest in realism yet nostalgic for past days of wealth and power, revived and illustrated the diary in order to recapture the splendor of the author’s times. One of the most beautiful passages illustrates the episode in which Murasaki Shikibu is playfully held prisoner in her room by two young courtiers, while, just outside, moonlight gleams on the mossy banks of a rivulet in the imperial garden.

 Muromachi art

Art of Miyabi, Kitayama Culture (Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, 1397)

Art of Wabi-sabi, Higashiyama Culture (Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto, 1489)

During the Muromachi period (1338–1573), also called the Ashikaga period, a profound change took place in Japanese culture. The Ashikaga clan took control of the shogunate and moved its headquarters back to Kyoto, to the Muromachi district of the city. With the return of government to the capital, the popularizing trends of the Kamakura period came to an end, and cultural expression took on a more aristocratic, elitist character. Zen Buddhism, the Ch’an sect traditionally thought to have been founded in China in the 6th century CE, was introduced for a second time into Japan and took root.

Painting: Because of secular ventures and trading missions to China organized by Zen temples, many Chinese paintings and objects of art were imported into Japan and profoundly influenced Japanese artists working for Zen temples and the shogunate. Not only did these imports change the subject matter of painting, but they also modified the use of color; the bright colors of Yamato-e yielded to the monochromes of painting in the Chinese manner, where paintings generally only have black and white or different tones of a single color.

“Landscape of fall and winter” by Sesshu

Typical of early Muromachi painting is the depiction by the priest-painter Kao (active early 15th century) of the legendary monk Kensu (Hsien-tzu in Chinese) at the moment he achieved enlightenment. This type of painting was executed with quick brush strokes and a minimum of detail. ‘Catching a Catfish with a Gourd’ (early 15th century, Taizo-in, Myoshin-ji, Kyoto), by the priest-painter Josetsu (active c. 1400), marks a turning point in Muromachi painting. Executed originally for a low-standing screen, it has been remounted as a hanging scroll with inscriptions by contemporary figures above, one of which refers to the painting as being in the “new style.” In the foreground a man is depicted on the bank of a stream holding a small gourd and looking at a large slithery catfish. Mist fills the middle ground, and the background mountains appear to be far in the distance. It is generally assumed that the “new style” of the painting, executed about 1413, refers to a more Chinese sense of deep space within the picture plane.

The foremost artists of the Muromachi period are the priest-painters Shūbun and Sesshū. Shūbun, a monk at the Kyoto temple of Shokoku-ji, created in the painting Reading in a Bamboo Grove (1446) a realistic landscape with deep recession into space. Sesshū, unlike most artists of the period, was able to journey to China and study Chinese painting at its source. Landscape of the Four Seasons (Sansui Chokan; c. 1486) is one of Sesshu’s most accomplished works, depicting a continuing landscape through the four seasons.

  Azuchi-Momoyama art

Cypress Tree Byōbu, Kano Eitoku, 1590

In the Momoyama period (1573–1603), a succession of military leaders, such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, attempted to bring peace and political stability to Japan after an era of almost 100 years of warfare. Oda, a minor chieftain, acquired power sufficient to take de facto control of the government in 1568 and, five years later, to oust the last Ashikaga shogun. Hideyoshi took command after Oda’s death, but his plans to establish hereditary rule were foiled by Ieyasu, who established the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Painting: The most important school of painting in the Momoyama period was that of the Kanō school, and the greatest innovation of the period was the formula, developed by Kano Eitoku, for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room. The decoration of the main room facing the garden of the Juko-in, a subtemple of Daitoku-ji (a Zen temple in Kyoto), is perhaps the best extant example of Eitoku’s work. A massive ume tree and twin pines are depicted on pairs of sliding screens in diagonally opposite corners, their trunks repeating the verticals of the corner posts and their branches extending to left and right, unifying the adjoining panels. Eitoku’s screen, ‘Chinese Lions’, also in Kyoto, reveals the bold, brightly colored style of painting preferred by the samurai.

The Siege of Osaka Castle, 17th century.

Hasegawa Tohaku, a contemporary of Eitoku, developed a somewhat different and more decorative style for large-scale screen paintings. In his ‘Maple Screen‘, now in the temple of Chishaku-in, Kyoto, he placed the trunk of the tree in the center and extended the limbs nearly to the edge of the composition, creating a flatter, less architectonic work than Eitoku, but a visually gorgeous painting. His sixfold screen, ‘Pine Wood‘, is a masterly rendering in monochrome ink of a grove of trees enveloped in mist.

 Art of the Edo period

The Tokugawa shogunate gained undisputed control of the government in 1603 with a commitment to bring peace and economic and political stability to the country; in large measure it was successful. The shogunate survived until 1867, when it was forced to capitulate because of its failure to deal with pressure from Western nations to open the country to foreign trade. One of the dominant themes in the Edo period was the repressive policies of the shogunate and the attempts of artists to escape these strictures. The foremost of these was the closing of the country to foreigners and the accoutrements of their cultures, and the imposition of strict codes of behavior affecting every aspect of life, the clothes one wore, the person one married, and the activities one could or should not pursue.

In the early years of the Edo period, however, the full impact of Tokugawa policies had not yet been felt, and some of Japan’s finest expressions in architecture and painting were produced: Katsura Palace in Kyoto and the paintings of Tawaraya Sōtatsu, pioneer of the Rimpa school.

Circuit style Japanese garden: Koraku-en Garden in Okayama, completed in 1700

Architecture: Katsura Detached Palace, built in imitation of Genji‘s palace, contains a cluster of shoin buildings that combine elements of classic Japanese architecture with innovative restatements. The whole complex is surrounded by a beautiful garden with paths for walking. Many of powerful Daimyo (feudal lords) built a Circuit style Japanese garden in the territory country, and competed for the beauty.

Painting: Sōtatsu evolved a superb decorative style by re-creating themes from classical literature, using brilliantly colored figures and motifs from the natural world set against gold-leaf backgrounds. One of his finest works is the pair of screens The Waves at Matsushima in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. A century later, Korin reworked Sōtatsu’s style and created visually gorgeous works uniquely his own. Perhaps his finest are the screen paintings of red and white plum blossoms.

Sculpture The Buddhist monk Enkū carved 120,000 Buddhist images in a rough, individual style.

Sudden Shower at the Atake Bridge, Hiroshige, 1856

Woodblock prints and Bunjinga: The school of art best known in the West is that of the ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints of the demimonde, the world of the kabuki theater and the brothel district. Ukiyo-e prints began to be produced in the late 17th century, but in 1764 Harunobu produced the first polychrome print. Print designers of the next generation, including Torii Kiyonaga and Utamaro, created elegant and sometimes insightful depictions of courtesans.

The print Red Fuji from Hokusai‘s series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

In the 19th century the dominant figure was Hiroshige, a creator of romantic and somewhat sentimental landscape prints. The odd angles and shapes through which Hiroshige often viewed landscape, and the work of Kiyonaga and Utamaro, with its emphasis on flat planes and strong linear outlines, had a profound impact on such Western artists as Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh. Via artworks held in Western museums, these same printmakers would later exert a powerful influence on the imagery and aesthetic approaches used by early Modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington and H.D..[10]

Another school of painting contemporary with ukiyo-e was Bunjinga, a style based on paintings executed by Chinese scholar-painters. Just as ukiyo-e artists chose to depict figures from life outside the strictures of the Tokugawa shogunate, Bunjin artists turned to Chinese culture. The exemplars of this style are Ike no Taiga, Yosa Buson, Tanomura Chikuden, and Yamamoto Baiitsu.

  Art of the Prewar period

When Emperor of Japan regained ruling power in 1868, Japan was once again invaded by new and alien forms of culture. During the Prewar period, The introduction of Western cultural values led to a dichotomy in Japanese art, as well as in nearly every other aspect of culture, between traditional values and attempts to duplicate and assimilate a variety of clashing new ideas. This split remained evident in the late twentieth century, although much synthesis had by then already occurred, and created an international cultural atmosphere and stimulated contemporary Japanese arts toward ever more innovative forms.

Keiunkan Main Garden, by Jihe Ogawa, 1887

By the early 20th century, European art forms were well introduced and their marriage produced notable buildings like the Tokyo Train Station and the National Diet Building that still exist today.

A lot of artistic new Japanese gardens were built with Jihe Ogawa.

Manga were first drawn in the Meiji period, influenced greatly by English and French political cartoons.

Architecture: Tokyo Station, a building of Giyōfū architecture, full of bricks and pseudo-European style. This style buildings were built in urban area.

Painting: The first response of the Japanese to Western art forms was open-hearted acceptance, and in 1876 the Technological Art School was opened, employing Italian instructors to teach Western methods. The second response was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction spearheaded by Okakura Kakuzo and the American Ernest Fenollosa, who encouraged Japanese artists to retain traditional themes and techniques while creating works more in keeping with contemporary taste. This was a strategy that eventually served to extend the influence of Japanese art as far as Calcutta, London, and Boston in the years leading up to World War I.[11] Out of these two poles of artistic theory – derived from Europe and from East Asia respectively – developed Yōga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga (Japanese painting), categories that remain valid to the present day.

 Art of the Postwar period

After the end of World War II in 1945, many artists began working in art forms derived from the international scene, moving away from local artistic developments into the mainstream of world art. But traditional Japanese conceptions endured, particularly in the use of modular space in architecture, certain spacing intervals in music and dance, a propensity for certain color combinations and characteristic literary forms.

Art from 1603 to 1945 (Edo period and Prewar period) were supported by merchants. Counter to Edo period and Prewar period, art of Postwar period was changed to the art which is supported by people as consumers. The wide variety of art forms available to the Japanese reflect the vigorous state of the arts, widely supported by the Japanese people and promoted by the government. In the 1950s and 1960s, Japan’s artistic avant garde included the internationally influential Gutai group, which originated or anticipated various postwar genres such as performance art, installation art, conceptual art, and wearable art. In photography, Kansuke Yamamoto was a prominent photographer.

American art and architecture greatly influenced Japan. Though fear of earthquakes severely restricted the building of a skyscraper, technological advances let Japanese build larger and higher buildings with more artistic outlooks.

As Japan has always made little distinction between ‘fine art’ and ‘decorative art’, as the West has done since the Renaissance, it is important to note Japan’s significant and unique contributions to the fields of art in entertainment, commercial uses, and graphic design. Cartoons imported from America led to anime that at first were derived exclusively from manga stories. Today, anime abounds, and many artists and studios have risen to great fame as artists; Hayao Miyazaki and the artists and animators of Studio Ghibli are generally regarded to be among the best the anime world has to offer. Japan also flourishes in the fields of graphic design, commercial art (e.g. billboards, magazine advertisements), and in video game graphics and concept art.

  Contemporary art in Japan

Japanese modern art takes as many forms and expresses as many different ideas as modern art in general, worldwide. It ranges from advertisements, anime, video games, and architecture as already mentioned, to sculpture, painting, and drawing in all their myriad forms.

Many artists do continue to paint in the traditional manner, with black ink and color on paper or silk. Some of these depict traditional subject matter in the traditional styles, while others explore new and different motifs and styles, while using the traditional media. Still others eschew native media and styles, embracing Western oil paints or any number of other forms.

In sculpture, the same holds true; some artists stick to the traditional modes, some doing it with a modern flair, and some choose Western or brand new modes, styles, and media. Yo Akiyama is just one of many modern Japanese sculptors. He works primarily in clay pottery and ceramics, creating works that are very simple and straightforward, looking like they were created out of the earth itself. Another sculptor, using iron and other modern materials, built a large modern art sculpture in the Israeli port city of Haifa, called Hanabi (Fireworks).

Takashi Murakami is arguably one of the most well-known Japanese modern artists in the Western world. Murakami and the other artists in his studio create pieces in a style, inspired by anime, which he has dubbed “superflat“. His pieces take a multitude of forms, from painting to sculpture, some truly massive in size. But most if not all show very clearly this anime influence, utilizing bright colors and simplified details.

 Performing arts

Kabuki Theater

A remarkable number of the traditional forms of Japanese music, dance, and theater have survived in the contemporary world, enjoying some popularity through reidentification with Japanese cultural values. Traditional music and dance, which trace their origins to ancient religious use – Buddhist, Shintō, and folk – have been preserved in the dramatic performances of Noh, Kabuki, and bunraku theater. Ancient court music and dance forms deriving from continental sources were preserved through Imperial household musicians and temple and shrine troupes. Some of the oldest musical instruments in the world have been in continuous use in Japan from the Jōmon period, as shown by finds of stone and clay flutes and zithers having between two and four strings, to which Yayoi period metal bells and gongs were added to create early musical ensembles. By the early historical period (sixth to seventh centuries CE), there were a variety of large and small drums, gongs, chimes, flutes, and stringed instruments, such as the imported mandolin-like biwa and the flat six-stringed zither, which evolved into the thirteen-stringed koto. These instruments formed the orchestras for the seventh-century continentally derived ceremonial court music (gagaku), which, together with the accompanying bugaku (a type of court dance), are the most ancient of such forms still performed at the Imperial court, ancient temples, and shrines. Buddhism introduced the rhythmic chants, still used, that underpin Shigin, and that were joined with native ideas to underlay theAesthetic concepts

Calligraphy of Bodhidharma, “Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”, Hakuin Ekaku, 17th century

Main article: Japanese aesthetics

Japanese art is characterized by unique polarities. In the ceramics of the prehistoric periods, for example, exuberance was followed by disciplined and refined artistry. Another instance is provided by two 16th-century structures that are poles apart: the Katsura Detached Palace is an exercise in simplicity, with an emphasis on natural materials, rough and untrimmed, and an affinity for beauty achieved by accident; Nikkō Tōshō-gū is a rigidly symmetrical structure replete with brightly colored relief carvings covering every visible surface. Japanese art, valued not only for its simplicity but also for its colorful exuberance, has considerably influenced 19th-century Western painting and 20th century Western architecture.

Japan’s aesthetic conceptions, deriving from diverse cultural traditions, have been formative in the production of unique art forms. Over the centuries, a wide range of artistic motifs developed and were refined, becoming imbued with symbolic significance. Like a pearl, they acquired many layers of meaning and a high luster. Japanese aesthetics provide a key to understanding artistic works perceivably different from those coming from Western traditions.

Within the East Asian artistic tradition, China has been the acknowledged teacher and Japan the devoted student. Nevertheless, several Japanese arts developed their own style, which can be differentiated from various Chinese arts. The monumental, symmetrically balanced, rational approach of Chinese art forms became miniaturized, irregular, and subtly suggestive in Japanese hands. Miniature rock gardens, diminutive plants (bonsai), and ikebana (flower arrangements), in which the selected few represented a garden, were the favorite pursuits of refined aristocrats for a millennium, and they have remained a part of contemporary cultural life.

The diagonal, reflecting a natural flow, rather than the fixed triangle, became the favored structural device, whether in painting, architectural or garden design, dance steps, or musical notations. Odd numbers replace even numbers in the regularity of a Chinese master pattern, and a pull to one side allows a motif to turn the corner of a three-dimensional object, thus giving continuity and motion that is lacking in a static frontal design. Japanese painters used the devices of the cutoff, close-up, and fade-out by the twelfth century in yamato-e, or Japanese-style, scroll painting, perhaps one reason why modern filmmaking has been such a natural and successful art form in Japan. Suggestion is used rather than direct statement; oblique poetic hints and allusive and inconclusive melodies and thoughts have proved frustrating to the Westerner trying to penetrate the meanings of literature, music, painting, and even everyday language.

The Japanese began defining such aesthetic ideas in a number of evocative phrases by at least the tenth or eleventh century. The courtly refinements of the aristocratic Heian period evolved into the elegant simplicity seen as the essence of good taste in the understated art that is called shibui. Two terms originating from Zen Buddhist meditative practices describe degrees of tranquility: one, the repose found in humble melancholy (wabi), the other, the serenity accompanying the enjoyment of subdued beauty (sabi). Zen thought also contributed a penchant for combining the unexpected or startling, used to jolt one’s consciousness toward the goal of enlightenment. In art, this approach was expressed in combinations of such unlikely materials as lead inlaid in lacquer and in clashing poetic imagery. Unexpectedly humorous and sometimes grotesque images and motifs also stem from the Zen koan (conundrum). Although the arts have been mainly secular since the Edo period, traditional aesthetics and training methods, stemming generally from religious sources, continue to underlie artistic productions.


Traditionally, the artist was a vehicle for expression and was personally reticent, in keeping with the role of an artisan or entertainer of low social status. The calligrapher, a member of the Confucian literati class, or noble samurai class in Japan, had a higher status, while artists of great genius were often recognized in the Kamakura period by receiving a name from a feudal lord and thus rising socially. The performing arts, however, were generally held in less esteem, and the purported immorality of actresses of the early Kabuki theater caused the Tokugawa government to bar women from the stage; female roles in Kabuki and Noh thereafter were played by men.

After World War II, artists typically gathered in arts associations, some of which were long-established professional societies while others reflected the latest arts movement. The Japan Artists League, for example, was responsible for the largest number of major exhibitions, including the prestigious annual Nitten (Japan Art Exhibition). The P.E.N. Club of Japan (P.E.N. stands for prose, essay, and narrative), a branch of an international writers’ organization, was the largest of some thirty major authors’ associations. Actors, dancers, musicians, and other performing artists boasted their own societies, including the Kabuki Society, organized in 1987 to maintain this art’s traditional high standards, which were thought to be endangered by modern innovation. By the 1980s, however, avant-garde painters and sculptors had eschewed all groups and were “unattached” artists.

 Art schools

There are a number of specialized universities for the arts in Japan, led by the national universities. The most important is the Tokyo Arts University, one of the most difficult of all national universities to enter. Another seminal center is Tama Arts University in Tokyo, which produced many of Japan’s late twentieth- century innovative young artists. Traditional training in the arts, derived from Chinese traditional methods, remains; experts teach from their homes or head schools working within a master-pupil relationship. A pupil does not experiment with a personal style until achieving the highest level of training, or graduating from an arts school, or becoming head of a school. Many young artists have criticized this system as stifling creativity and individuality. A new generation of the avant-garde has broken with this tradition, often receiving its training in the West. In the traditional arts, however, the master-pupil system preserves the secrets and skills of the past. Some master-pupil lineages can be traced to the Kamakura period, from which they continue to use a great master’s style or theme. Japanese artists consider technical virtuosity as the sine qua non of their professions, a fact recognized by the rest of the world as one of the hallmarks of Japanese art.

The national government has actively supported the arts through the Agency for Cultural Affairs, set up in 1968 as a special body of the Ministry of Education. The agency’s budget for FY 1989 rose to ¥37.8 billion after five years of budget cuts, but still represented much less than 1 percent of the general budget. The agency’s Cultural Affairs Division disseminated information about the arts within Japan and internationally, and the Cultural Properties Protection Division protected the nation’s cultural heritage. The Cultural Affairs Division is concerned with such areas as art and culture promotion, arts copyrights, and improvements in the national language. It also supports both national and local arts and cultural festivals, and it funds traveling cultural events in music, theater, dance, art exhibitions, and filmmaking. Special prizes are offered to encourage young artists and established practitioners, and some grants are given each year to enable them to train abroad. The agency funds national museums of modern art in Kyoto and Tokyo and The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, which exhibit both Japanese and international shows. The agency also supports the Japan Academy of Arts, which honors eminent persons of arts and letters, appointing them to membership and offering ¥3.5 million in prize money. Awards are made in the presence of the Emperor, who personally bestows the highest accolade, the Cultural Medal.

 Private sponsorship and foundations

Arts patronage and promotion by the government are broadened to include a new cooperative effort with corporate Japan to provide funding beyond the tight budget of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Many other public and private institutions participate, especially in the burgeoning field of awarding arts prizes. A growing number of large corporations join major newspapers in sponsoring exhibitions and performances and in giving yearly prizes. The most important of the many literary awards given are the venerable Naoki Prize and the Akutagawa Prize, the latter being the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in the United States.

In 1989 an effort to promote cross-cultural exchange led to the establishment of a Japanese “Nobel Prize” for the arts, the Premium Imperiale, by the Japan Art Association. This prize of US$100,000 was funded largely by the mass media conglomerate Fujisankei Communications Group and was awarded on a worldwide selection basis.

A number of foundations promoting the arts arose in the 1980s, including the Cultural Properties Foundation set up to preserve historic sites overseas, especially along the Silk Road in Inner Asia and at Dunhuang in China. Another international arrangement was made in 1988 with the United States Smithsonian Institution for cooperative exchange of high-technology studies of Asian artifacts. The government plays a major role by funding the Japan Foundation, which provides both institutional and individual grants, effects scholarly exchanges, awards annual prizes, supported publications and exhibitions, and sends traditional Japanese arts groups to perform abroad. The Arts Festival held for two months each fall for all the performing arts is sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Major cities also provides substantial support for the arts; a growing number of cities in the 1980s had built large centers for the performing arts and, stimulated by government funding, were offering prizes such as the Lafcadio Hearn Prize initiated by the city of Matsue. A number of new municipal museums were also providing about one-third more facilities in the 1980s than were previously available. In the late 1980s, Tokyo added more than twenty new cultural halls, notably, the large Bunkamura built by Tokyu Group and the reconstruction of Shakespeare‘s Globe Theatre. All these efforts reflect a rising popular enthusiasm for the arts. Japanese art buyers swept the Western art markets in the late 1980s, paying record highs for impressionist paintings and US$51.7 million alone for one blue period Picasso.

By expressthrougharts Posted in Japan

Egyptian Art

Visual art

  Egyptian art in antiquity

The Egyptians were one of the first major civilizations to codify design elements in art. The wall paintings done in the service of the Pharaohs followed a rigid code of visual rules and meanings. Early Egyptian art is characterized by absence of linear perspective, which results in a seemingly flat space. These artists tended to create images based on what they knew, and not as much on what they see. Objects in these artworks generally do not decrease in size as they increase in distance and there is little shading to indicate depth. Sometimes, distance is indicated through the use of tiered space, where more distant objects are drawn higher above the nearby objects, but in the same scale and with no overlapping of forms. People and objects are almost always drawn in profile. Also, you may notice the people in Egyptian art are never facing forward. Archaeologists are not yet sure of why, but they are leaning torwards the fact that artists status was low in the hierarchy so they could never be in front of a higher authority figure, and never be faced towards them.

Antiquity and modernity stand side-by-side in Egypt’s chief Mediterranean seaport of Alexandria.

Early Egyptian artists did have a system for maintaining dimensions within artwork. They used a grid system that allowed them to create a smaller version of the artwork, and then scale up the design based upon proportional representation in a larger grid.

  Egyptian art in modern times

Modern and contemporary Egyptian art can be as diverse as any works in the world art scene. Some well-known names include Mahmoud Mokhtar, Abdel Hadi Al Gazzar, Farouk Hosny, Gazbia Sirry, Kamal Amin, Hussein El Gebaly and many others. Many artists in Egypt have taken on modern media such as digital art and this has been the theme of many exhibitions in Cairo in recent times. There has also been a tendency to use the World Wide Web as an alternative outlet for artists and there is a strong Art-focused internet community on groups that has found origin in Egypt. *.


Egyptian cinema has flourished since the 1930s.[2] As a result, the Egyptian capital has been dubbed the “Hollywood of the Middle East”, where the world-renowned Cairo International Film Festival is held every year. The festival has been rated by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations as being among the 11 top-class film festivals worldwide.[3]

Most of Arabic-language TV and cinema has been notably affected by the Egyptian dialect, due to its simplicity.[citation needed]

The Egyptian film industry is the largest within Arabic-speaking cinema.[2]

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Front and rear views of an oud.

Egyptian music is a rich mixture of indigenous Egyptian, African and Western influences.

As early as 4000 BC, ancient Egyptians were playing harps and flutes, as well as two indigenous instruments: the ney and the oud. However, there is little notation of Egyptian music before the 7th century AD, when Egypt became part of the Muslim world. Percussion and vocal music became important at this time, and has remained an important part of Egyptian music today.

Contemporary Egyptian music traces its beginnings to the creative work of luminaries such as Abdu-l Hamuli, Almaz, Sayed Mikkawi, and Mahmud Osman, who were all patronized by Khedive Ismail and who influenced the later work of Sayed Darwish, Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Abdel Halim Hafez and other Egyptian music giants.

From the 1970s onwards, Egyptian pop music has become increasingly important in Egyptian culture, particularly among the large youth population of Egypt. Egyptian folk music is also popular, played during weddings and other festivities. In the last quarter of the 20th century, Egyptian music was a way to communicate social and class issues. The most popular Egyptian pop singers are Amr Diab, Mohamed Mounir and Ali El Haggar.

Belly dance, or Raqs Sharqi (literally: oriental dancing) may have originated in Egypt, and today the country is considered the international center of the art.

By expressthrougharts Posted in Egypt

Chinese Dragon Dance

Dragon dance (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: wǔ lóng) is a form of traditional dance and performance in Chinese culture. Like the lion dance it is most often seen in festive celebrations. Many Chinese people often use the term “Descendants of the Dragon” (龍的傳人 or 龙的传人, lóng de chuán rén) as a sign of ethnic identity, as part of a trend started in the 1970s. Another derivation is from (農的傳人) i.e. the descendants of Shennong, the legendary first king of the Chinese people who taught them agriculture, law and medicine, the foundations of civilization.

In the dance, a team of people carry the dragon — which is an image of the Chinese dragon — on poles. A dragon can be composed of up to 50 people.[1] The dance team does mimic the supposed movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner. The movements in a performance traditionally symbolise historical roles of dragons demonstrating power and dignity. The dragon dance is a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations held worldwide in Chinatowns around the world.[citation needed]

Dragons are believed to bring good luck to people, which is reflected in their qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility, wisdom and auspiciousness. The appearance of a dragon is both frightening[citation needed] and bold but it has a benevolent disposition, and so eventually became an emblem to represent imperial authority.


The head of dragon dance costume

A dragon dance is performed alongside a lion dance during the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay in San Francisco in April

Lion dances originated in India along with Buddhist lore and ritual. The popular form of lion dancing today’s Chinese culture evolved in China, though several countries throughout the Asian region, including Japan, have developed their own styles of lion dance through the centuries.

The Dragon Dance itself originated during the Han Dynasty and was started by the Chinese who had shown great belief and respect towards the dragon. It is believed to have begun as part of the farming and harvest culture, also with origins as a method of healing and preventing sickness. It was already a popular event during the Song Dynasty where it had become a folk activity and like the lion dance, was most often seen in festive celebrations.[2]

As the dragon gives people a feeling of great respect, it is often called the Sacred Dragon. The emperors of ancient China considered themselves as the dragon. The Dragon is also the emblem of Imperial Authority. It symbolizes supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and dignity.

In the Qing Dynasty, the Dragon Dance team of the province of Foochow had been invited to perform in Peking and had been greatly praised and admired by the Qing Emperor, which earned great fame for the team.


Members of the Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne performing at Chinese New Year demonstrate a basic “corkscrew” trick

The dragon dance is performed by a skilled team whose job is to bring the motionless body to life. The dragon itself is a long serpent shaped body on poles, assembled by joining the series of hoops on each section and attaching the ornamental head and tail pieces at the ends. Traditionally, dragons were constructed of wood, with bamboo hoops on the inside and covered with a rich fabric, however in the modern era lighter materials such as aluminium and plastics have replaced the wood and heavy material.[2]

Dragons can range in length from around 25 to 35 meters for the more acrobatic models, and up to 50 to 70 meters for the largest, parade and ceremonial styles, since part of the myth of the dragon is that the longer the creature, the more luck it will bring. The size and length of a dragon depend on the human power available, financial power, materials, skills and size of the field. Its length typically ranges from 9 sections to 15 sections long, though some dragons are as long as 46 sections.

A small organization cannot afford to run a very long dragon because it consumes great human power, great expenses and special skills which are difficult to manage. The normal length and size of the body recommended for the dragon is 112 feet (34 meters) and is divided into 9 major sections. The distance of each minor (rib-like) section is 14 inches apart; therefore, the body has 81 rings. History tells us that the dragon dance is performed in various ways, types and colors. Green is sometimes selected as a main color of the dragon, which symbolizes a great harvest. Other colors include: yellow symbolizing the solemn empire, golden or silver colors symbolizing prosperity, red color representing excitement while its scales and tail are mostly beautiful silver colors and glittering at all times which provides a feeling of joyous atmosphere. As the Dragon dance is not performed every day, the cloth of the dragon is to be removed and to have a new touch of ultra-paint before the next performance.

The correct combination and proper timing of the different parts of the dragon are very important to make a successful dance. Any mistakes made by even some of the performers would spoil the whole performance. To be very successful in the dance, the head of the Dragon must be able to co-operate with the body in combination with the timing of the drum. For larger ceremonial and parade style dragons, the head can weigh as much as 12 katis (14.4 kg, almost 32 lb). The dragon tail also has an important role to play as it will have to keep in time with head movements. The fifth section is considered to be the middle portion and the performers must be very alert as the body movements change from time to time.

In competition performances however, there are strict rules governing the specifications of the dragon body and the routine performed, and so dragons made for these events and what are mostly seen in the impressive stage shows are made for speed and agility, to be used by the performing team for maximum trick difficulty. In these dragons, the head is smaller and light enough to be whipped around, and must be a minimum of 3 kg, the body pieces are a light aluminium with cane and the majority of the hoops will be very thin PVC tubing. Performances are typically made into 8-10 minute routines with an accompanying percussion set.[2]

A double dragon dance at Chongqing, China in September 2002 during a week-long celebration of China’s National Day

A double dragon dance, rarely seen in Western exhibitions, involves two troupes of dancers intertwining the dragons. Even rarer are dances with the full array of nine dragons, since nine is a “perfect” number. Such dances involve large number of participants from various organizations, and are often only possible under the auspices of the greater community.

The patterns of the dragon dance are choreographed according to the skills and experiences acquired by the performers. Some of the patterns of the dragon dance are “Cloud Cave”, “Whirlpool”, Tai-Chi pattern, “threading the money”, “looking for pearl”, and “dragon encircling the pillar”. The movement “dragon chasing the pearl” shows that the dragon is continually in the pursuit of wisdom.

The dragon moves in a wave-like pattern achieved by the co-ordinated swinging of each section in succession. Whilst this swinging constitutes the basic movement of the dragon, executing more complex formations is only limited by a team’s creativity. The patterns and tricks that are performed generally involve running into spiralled formations to make the dragon body turn and twist on itself. This causes performers to jump over or through the dragon’s body sections, adding to the visual display. Other advanced manoeuvres include various corkscrew-like rotating tricks and more acrobatic moves where the performers stand on each others legs and shoulders to increase the height of the dragon’s movements.[2]

Performing in a dragon dance team incorporates several elements and skills; it is something of a cross-over activity, combining the training and mentality of a sports team with the stagecraft and flair of a performing arts troupe. The basic skills are simple to learn, however to become a competent performer takes dedicated training until movements become second nature and complex formations can be achieved – which rely not only on the skill of the individual member, but on concentration by the team as a whole to move in co-operation.[2]

 In literature

Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poem “The Great Chinese Dragon”, published in his 1961 anthology Starting from San Francisco was inspired by the dragon dance. Gregory Stephenson says the dragon “… represents ‘the force and mystery of life,’ the true sight that ‘sees the spiritual everywhere translucent in the material world.'”[3] Earl Lovelace’s novel “The dragon can’t dance” uses the theme of the Carnival dance to explore social change and history in the West Indies.[4]

By expressthrougharts Posted in China

Chinese Arts

Chinese art is visual art that, whether ancient or modern, originated in or is practiced in China or by Chinese artists or performers. Early so-called “stone age art” dates back to 10,000 BC, mostly consisting of simple pottery and sculptures. This early period was followed by a series of art dynasties, most of which lasted several hundred years. The Chinese art in the Republic of China (Taiwan) and that of overseas Chinese can also be considered part of Chinese art where it is based in or draws on Chinese heritage and Chinese culture.


Historical development to 221 BC

  Neolithic pottery

Main article: Yangshao culture

Early forms of art in China are found in the Neolithic Yangshao culture (Chinese: 仰韶文化; pinyin: Yǎngsháo Wénhuà), which dates back to the 6th millennium BCE. Archeological findings such as those at the Banpo have revealed that the Yangshao made pottery; early ceramics were unpainted and most often cord-marked. The first decorations were fish and human faces, but these eventually evolved into symmetricalgeometric abstract designs, some painted.

The most distinctive feature of Yangshao culture was the extensive use of painted pottery, especially human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery making. Excavations have found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.

  Jade culture

Main article: Liangzhu culture

The Liangzhu culture was the last Neolithic Jade culture in the Yangtze River delta and was spaced over a period of about 1,300 years. The Jade from this culture is characterized by finely worked, large ritual jades such as Cong cylinders, Bi discs, Yue axes and also pendants and decorations in the form of chiseled open-work plaques, plates and representations of small birds, turtles and fish. The Liangzhu Jade has a white, milky bone-like aspect due to its Tremolite rock origin and influence of water-based fluids at the burial sites. Jade is a green stone that cannot be carved so it has to be ground.

  Bronze casting

Main article: Chinese bronzes

The Bronze Age in China began with the Xia Dynasty. Examples from this period have been recovered from ruins of the Erlitou culture, in Shanxi, and include complex but unadorned utilitarian objects. In the following Shang Dynasty more elaborate objects, including many ritual vessels, were crafted. The Shang are remembered for their bronze casting, noted for its clarity of detail. Shang bronzesmiths usually worked in foundries outside the cities to make ritual vessels, and sometimes weapons and chariot fittings as well. The bronze vessels were receptacles for storing or serving various solids and liquids used in the performance of sacred ceremonies. Some forms such as the ku and jue can be very graceful, but the most powerful pieces are the ding, sometimes described as having the an “air of ferocious majesty.”

It is typical of the developed Shang style that all available space is decorated, most often with stylized forms of real and imaginary animals. The most common motif is the taotie, which shows a mythological being presented frontally as though squashed onto a horizontal plane to form a symmetrical design. The early significance of taotie is not clear, but myths about it existed around the late Zhou Dynasty. It was considered to be variously a covetous man banished to guard a corner of heaven against evil monsters; or a monster equipped with only a head which tries to devour men but hurts only itself.

The function and appearance of bronzes changed gradually from the Shang to the Zhou. They shifted from been used in religious rites to more practical purposes. By the Warring States Period, bronze vessels had become objects of aesthetic enjoyment. Some were decorated with social scenes, such as from a banquet or hunt; whilst others displayed abstract patterns inlaid with gold, silver, or precious and semiprecious stones.

Shang bronzes became appreciated as works of art from the Song Dynasty, when they were collected and prized not only for their shape and design but also for the various green, blue green, and even reddish patinas created by chemical action as they lay buried in the ground. The study of early Chinese bronze casting is a specialized field of art history].

 Chu and Southern culture

A rich source of art in early China was the state of Chu, which developed in the Yangtze River valley. Excavations of Chu tombs have found painted wooden sculptures, jade disks, glass beads, musical instruments, and an assortment of lacquerware. Many of the lacquer objects are finely painted, red on black or black on red. A site in Changsha, Hunan province, has revealed the world’s oldest painting on silk discovered to date. It shows a woman accompanied by a phoenix and a dragon, two mythological animals to feature prominently in Chinese art.

  Early Imperial China (221 BC–AD 220)

  Qin sculpture

Crossbow men from the Terracotta Army, interred by 210 BC, Qin Dynasty

The Terracotta Army, inside the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, consists of more than 7,000 life-size tomb terra-cotta figures of warriors and horses buried with the self-proclaimed first Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang) in 210–209 BC. The figures were painted before being placed into the vault. The original colors were visible when the pieces were first unearthed. However, exposure to air caused the pigments to fade, so today the unearthed figures appear terracotta in color. The figures are in several poses including standing infantry and kneeling archers, as well as charioteers with horses. Each figure’s head appears to be unique, showing a variety of facial features and expressions as well as hair styles.


Porcelain is made from a hard paste made of the clay kaolin and a feldspar called petuntse, which cements the vessel and seals any pores. China has become synonymous with high-quality porcelain. Most china pots comes from the city of Jingdezhen in China’s Jiangxi province. Jingdezhen, under a variety of names, has been central to porcelain production in China since at least the early Han Dynasty.

The most noticeable difference between porcelain and the other pottery clays is that it “wets” very quickly (that is, added water has a noticeably greater effect on the plasticity for porcelain than other clays), and that it tends to continue to “move” longer than other clays, requiring experience in handling to attain optimum results. During medieval times in Europe, porcelain was very expensive and in high demand for its beauty. TLV mirrors also date from the Han dynasty.

  Han art

The Han Dynasty was known for jade burial suits. One of the earliest known depictions of a landscape in Chinese art comes from a pair of hollow-tile door panels from a Western Han Dynasty tomb near Zhengzhou, dated 60 BCE.[1] A scene of continuous depth recession is conveyed by the zigzag of lines representing roads and garden walls, giving the impression that one is looking down from the top of a hill.[1] This artistic landscape scene was made by the repeated impression of standard stamps on the clay while it was still soft and not yet fired.[1] However, the oldest known landscape art scene tradition in the classical sense of painting is a work by Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty (581–618).

  • A gilt bronze lamp with a shutter, in the shape of a maidservant, from the Western Han Dynasty, 2nd century BC

  • Two gentlemen engrossed in conversation while two others look on, a painting on a ceramic tile from a tomb near Luoyang, Henan province, dated to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD)

  Period of division (220–581)

Part of the scroll for Admonitions of the Instructress to the Palace Ladies, probably a Tang Dynasty copy of the original by Gu Kaizhi

 Influence of Buddhism

Main article: Buddhist art

Buddhism arrived in China around the 1st century AD (although there are some traditions about a monk visiting China during Asoka‘s reign), and through to the 8th century it became very active and creative in the development of Buddhist art, particularly in the area of statuary. Receiving this distant religion, China soon incorporated strong Chinese traits in its artistic expression.

In the fifth to sixth century the Northern Dynasties, rather removed from the original sources of inspiration, tended to develop rather symbolic and abstract modes of representation, with schematic lines. Their style is also said to be solemn and majestic. The lack of corporeality of this art, and its distance from the original Buddhist objective of expressing the pure ideal of enlightenment in an accessible, realistic manner, progressively led to a research towards more naturalism and realism, leading to the expression of Tang Buddhist art.


In ancient China, painting and calligraphy were the most highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced almost exclusively by amateurs, aristocrats and scholar-officials who alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks, made from pine soot and animal glue. Writing as well as painting was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the 1st century, silk was gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued throughout China’s history and are mounted on scrolls and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.

Wang Xizhi was a famous Chinese calligrapher who lived in the 4th century AD. His most famous work is the Lanting Xu, the preface of a collection of poems written by a number of poets when gathering at Lan Ting near the town of Shaoxing in Zhejiang province and engaging in a game called “qu shui liu shang”.

Wei Shuo was a well-known calligrapher of Eastern Jin Dynasty who established consequential rules about the Regular Script. Her well-known works include Famous Concubine Inscription (名姬帖 Ming Ji Tie) and The Inscription of Wei-shi He’nan (衛氏和南帖 Wei-shi He’nan Tie).


Gu Kaizhi is a celebrated painter of ancient China born in Wuxi. He wrote three books about painting theory: On Painting (画论), Introduction of Famous Paintings of Wei and Jin Dynasties (魏晋胜流画赞) and Painting Yuntai Mountain (画云台山记). He wrote, “In figure paintings the clothes and the appearances were not very important. The eyes were the spirit and the decisive factor.”

Three of Gu’s paintings still survive today. They are “Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies“, “Nymph of the Luo River” (洛神赋), and “Wise and Benevolent Women”.

There are other examples of Jin Dynasty painting from tombs. This includes the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, painted on a brick wall of a tomb located near modern Nanjing and now found in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. Each of the figures are labeled and shown either drinking, writing, or playing a musical instrument. Other tomb paintings also depict scenes of daily life, such as men plowing fields with teams of oxen.

  The Sui and Tang dynasties (581–960)

Main article: Tang Dynasty art

Strolling About in Spring, by Zhan Ziqian, artist of the Sui Dynasty (581–618).

A Chinese Tang Dynasty tri-color glazed porcelain horse (ca. 700 CE), using yellow, green and white colors.

  Buddhist architecture and sculpture

Following a transition under the Sui Dynasty, Buddhist sculpture of the Tang evolved towards a markedly lifelike expression. As a consequence of the Dynasty’s openness to foreign trade and influences through the Silk Road, Tang dynasty Buddhist sculpture assumed a rather classical form, inspired by the Greco-Buddhist art of Central Asia.

However, foreign influences came to be negatively perceived towards the end of the Tang dynasty. In the year 845, the Tang emperor Wu-Tsung outlawed all “foreign” religions (including Christian Nestorianism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism) in order to support the indigenous Taoism. He confiscated Buddhist possessions and forced the faith to go underground, therefore affecting the ulterior development of the religion and its arts in China.

Most wooden Tang sculptures have not survived, though representations of the Tang international style can still be seen in Nara, Japan. The longevity of stone sculpture has proved much greater. Some of the finest examples can be seen at Longmen, near Luoyang, Yungang near Datong, and Bingling Temple, in Gansu.

One of the most famous Buddhist Chinese pagodas is the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 AD.

  • A Man Herding Horses, by Han Gan (706-783 AD), Tang Dynasty original.

  • Tang Dynasty painting from Dunhuang.


Painting by Dong Yuan (c. 934–962).

Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618–907), the primary subject matter of painting was the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain water) painting. In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the “rhythm” of nature.

Painting in the traditional style involved essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and was done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; oils were not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings were made were paper and silk. The finished works were then mounted on scrolls, which could be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting was also done in albums, on walls, lacquer work, and in other media.

Dong Yuan was an active painter in the Southern Tang Kingdom. He was known for both figure and landscape paintings, and exemplified the elegant style which would become the standard for brush painting in China over the next 900 years. As with many artists in China, his profession was as an official where he studied the existing styles of Li Sixun and Wang Wei. However, he added to the number of techniques, including more sophisticated perspective, use of pointillism and crosshatching to build up vivid effect.

Zhan Ziqian was a painter during the Sui Dynasty. His only painting in existence is Strolling About In Spring arranged mountains perspectively. Because the first pure scenery paintings of Europe emerged after the 17th century, Strolling About In Spring may well be the first scenery painting of the world.

 The Song and Yuan dynasties (960–1368)

A wooden Bodhisattva from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD)

The Sakyamuni Buddha, by Zhang Shengwen, 1173-1176 AD, Song Dynasty period.

 Song painting

During the Song dynasty (960–1279), landscapes of more subtle expression appeared; immeasurable distances were conveyed through the use of blurred outlines, mountain contours disappearing into the mist, and impressionistic treatment of natural phenomena. Emphasis was placed on the spiritual qualities of the painting and on the ability of the artist to reveal the inner harmony of man and nature, as perceived according to Taoist and Buddhist concepts.

Liang Kai was a Chinese painter who lived in the 13th century (Song Dynasty). He called himself “Madman Liang,” and he spent his life drinking and painting. Eventually, he retired and became a Zen monk. Liang is credited with inventing the Zen school of Chinese art. Wen Tong was a painter who lived in the 11th century. He was famous for ink paintings of bamboo. He could hold two brushes in one hand and paint two different distanced bamboos simultaneously. He did not need to see the bamboo while he painted them because he had seen a lot of them.

Zhang Zeduan was a notable painter for his horizontal Along the River During Qingming Festival landscape and cityscape painting. It has been quoted as “China’s Mona Lisa” and has had many well-known remakes throughout Chinese history.[2] Other famous paintings include The Night Revels of Han Xizai, originally painted by the Southern Tang artist Gu Hongzhong in the 10th century, while the well-known version of his painting is a 12th century remake of the Song Dynasty. This is a large horizontal handscroll of a domestic scene showing men of the gentry class being entertained by musicians and dancers while enjoying food, beverage, and wash basins provided by maidservants. In 2000, the modern artist Wang Qingsong created a parody of this painting with a long, horizontal photograph of people in modern clothing making similar facial expressions, poses, and hand gestures as the original painting.

  • Song Dynasty ding-ware porcelain bottle with iron pigment under a transparent colorless glaze, 11th century.

  • Playing Children, by Song artist Su Hanchen, c. 1150 AD.

  Yuan painting

With the fall of the Song dynasty in 1279, and the subsequent dislocation caused by the establishment of the Yuan dynasty by the Mongol conquerers, many court and literary artists retreated from social life, and returned to nature, through landscape paintings, and by renewing the “blue and green” style of the Tang era. [3]

Wang Meng was one such painter, and one of his most famous works is the Forest Grotto. Zhao Mengfu was a Chinese scholar, painter and calligrapher during the Yuan Dynasty. His rejection of the refined, gentle brushwork of his era in favor of the cruder style of the 8th century is considered to have brought about a revolution that created the modern Chinese landscape painting. There was also the vivid and detailed works of art by Qian Xuan (1235-1305), who had served the Song court, and out of patriotism refused to serve the Mongols, instead turning to painting. He was also famous for reviving and reproducing a more Tang Dynasty style of painting.

The later Yuan dynasty is characterized by the work of the so-called “Four Great Masters”. The most notable of these was Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) whose cool and restrained landscapes were admired by contemporaries, and by the Chinese literati painters of later centuries. Another of great influence was Ni Zan (1301-1374), who frequently arranged his compositions with a strong and distinct foreground and background, but left the middle-ground as an empty expanse. This scheme was frequently to be adopted by later Ming and Qing dynasty painters.[4]

  Late imperial China (1368-1911)

Detail of Dragon Throne used by the Qianlong Emperor of China, Forbidden City, Qing Dynasty. Artifact circulating in U.S. museums on loan from Beijing.

  Ming painting

Main article: Ming Dynasty painting

Peach Festival of the Queen Mother of the West, early 17th century, Ming Dynasty.

Chinese painting from 1664 by the Qing Dynasty painter, Kun Can

Under the Ming dynasty, Chinese culture bloomed. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than the Song paintings, was immensely popular during the time.

Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) developed the style of the Wu school in Suzhou, which dominated Chinese painting during the 16th century.[5]

European culture began to make an impact on Chinese art during this period. The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci visited Nanjing with many Western artworks, which were influential in showing different techniques of perspective and shading. [6]

  Early Qing painting

The Yongzheng Emperor Enjoying Himself During the 8th Lunar Month, by anonymous court artists, 1723-1735 AD, Palace Museum, Beijing, showing the use of linear perspective.

The early Qing dynasty developed in two main strands: the Orthodox school, and the Individualist painters, both of which followed the theories of Dong Qichang, but emphasizing very different aspects.[7]

The “Four Wangs“, including Wang Jian (1598-1677) and Wang Shimin (1592-1680), were particularly renowned in the Orthodox school, and sought inspiration in recreating the past styles, especially the technical skills in brushstrokes and calligraphy of ancient masters. The younger Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715) ritualized the approach of engaging with and drawing inspiration from a work of an ancient master. His own works were often annotated with his theories of how his painting relates to the master’s model. [8]

The Individualist painters included Bada Shanren (1626-1705) and Shitao (1641-1707). They drew more from the revolutionary ideas of transcending the tradition to achieve an original individualistic styles; in this way they were more faithfully following the way of Dong Qichang than the Orthodox school (who were his official direct followers.) [9]

As the techniques of color printing were perfected, illustrated manuals on the art of painting began to be published. Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden), a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been in use as a technical textbook for artists and students ever since.

  Late Qing Art

Nianhua were a form of colored woodlblock prints in China, depicting images for decoration during the Chinese New Year. In the 19th century Nianhua were used as news mediums.

 Shanghai School

The Shanghai School (海上画派 Haishang Huapai or 海派 Haipai) is a very important Chinese school of traditional arts during the Qing Dynasty and the whole of the 20th century. Under efforts of masters from this school, traditional Chinese art reached another climax and continued to the present in forms of “Chinese painting” (中国画), or guohua (国画) for short. The Shanghai School challenged and broke the literati tradition of Chinese art, while also paying technical homage to the ancient masters and improving on existing traditional techniques. Members of this school were themselves educated literati who had come to question their very status and the purpose of art, and had anticipated the impending modernization of Chinese society. In an era of rapid social change, works from the Shanghai School were widely innovative and diverse, and often contained thoughtful yet subtle social commentary. The most well-known figures from this school are Ren Xiong (任熊), Ren Yi (任伯年, also known as Ren Bonian), Zhao Zhiqian (赵之谦), Wu Changshuo (吴昌硕), Sha Menghai (沙孟海, calligraphist), Pan Tianshou (潘天寿), Fu Baoshi (傅抱石). Other well-known painters are: Wang Zhen, XuGu, Zhang Xiong, Hu Yuan, and Yang Borun.

  New China art (1912-1949)

Sanmao, one of the most well-known comic book characters in China


With the end of the last dynasty in China, the New Culture Movement began and defied all facets of traditionalism. A new breed of 20th century cultural philosophers like Xiao Youmei, Cai Yuanpei, Feng Zikai and Wang Guangqi wanted Chinese culture to modernize and reflect the New China. The Chinese Civil War would cause a drastic split between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. Following was the Second Sino-Japanese War in particular the Battle of Shanghai would leave the major cultural art center borderline to a humanitarian crisis.


Western style oil painting was introduced to China by painters such as Xiao Tao Sheng.

[edit] Communist and socialist art (1950-1980s)

 Selective art decline

The Communist Party of China would have full control of the government with Mao Zedong heading the People’s Republic of China. If the art was presented in a manner that favored the government, the artists were heavily promoted. Vice versa, any clash with communist party beliefs would force the artists to become farmers via “re-education” processes under the regime. The peak era of governmental control came under the Cultural Revolution. The most notable event was the Destruction of the Four Olds, which had major consequences for pottery, paintings, literary art, architecture and countless others.


Artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet Union socialist realism was imported without modification, and painters were assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings. This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956–57, traditional Chinese painting experienced a significant revival. Along with these developments in professional art circles, there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air painting exhibitions. Notable modern Chinese painters include Huang Binhong, Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong, Chang Ta Chien, Pan Tianshou, Wu Changshi, Fu Baoshi, Wang Kangle and Zhang Chongren.

  Redevelopment (Mid-1980s – 1990s)

   Contemporary Art

Execution by Yue Minjun, the most expensive Chinese contemporary art sold in 2007, for a value of US $5.9 million (or Euro €4.2 million)

Contemporary Chinese art (中国当代艺术, Zhongguo Dangdai Yishu) often referred to as Chinese avant-garde art, continued to develop since the 1980s as an outgrowth of modern art developments post-Cultural Revolution. Contemporary Chinese art fully incorporates painting, film, video, photography, and performance. Until recently, art exhibitions deemed controversial have been routinely shut down by police, and performance artists in particular faced the threat of arrest in the early 1990s. More recently there has been greater tolerance by the Chinese government, though many internationally acclaimed artists are still restricted from media exposure at home or have exhibitions ordered closed. Leading contemporary visual artists include Ai Weiwei, Cai Guoqiang, Cai Xin, Fang Lijun, Huang Yan, Huang Yong Ping, Kong Bai Ji, Lu Shengzhong, Ma Liuming, Ma Qingyun, Qiu Shihua, Song Dong, Li Wei, Christine Wang, Wang Guangyi, Wang Qingsong, Wenda Gu, Xu Bing, Yang Zhichao, Zhan Wang, Zhang Dali, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan, Zhu Yu, Yan Lei, Ma Kelu, Ding Fang, Shang Yang, Wei, Ligang (modern calligraphist), Yue Min Jun, Zheng Fan Zhi, Liu Fengzhi, and Zhang Yue.

  Visual art

Beginning in the late 1980s there was unprecedented exposure for younger Chinese visual artists in the west to some degree through the agency of curators based outside the country such as Hou Hanru. Local curators within the country such as Gao Minglu and critics such as Li Xianting (栗宪庭) reinforced this promotion of particular brands of painting that had recently emerged, while also spreading the idea of art as a strong social force within Chinese culture. There was some controversy as critics identified these imprecise representations of contemporary Chinese art as having been constructed out of personal preferences, a kind of programmatized artist-curator relationship that only further alienated the majority of the avant-garde from Chinese officialdom and western art market patronage.

  Art market

All The Mountains Blanketed in Red

Today, the market for Chinese art, both antique and contemporary, is widely reported to be among the hottest and fastest-growing in the world, attracting buyers all over the world.[10][11][12] The Voice of America reported in 2006 that modern Chinese art is raking in record prices both internationally and in domestic markets, some experts even fearing the market might be overheating.[13] The Economist reported that Chinese art has become the latest darling in the world market according to the record sales from Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the biggest fine-art auction houses.[14] The International Herald Tribune reported that Chinese porcelains were fought over in the art market as “if there was no tomorrow”.[15] Contemporary Chinese art also saw record sales throughout the 2000s. In 2007, it was estimated that 5 of the world’s 10 best selling living artists at art auction were from China, with artists such as Zhang Xiaogang whose works were sold for a total of $56.8 million at auction in 2007.[16] In terms of buying-market, China overtook France in late 2000s as the world’s third-largest art market, after the United States and the United Kingdom, due to the growing middle-class in the country.[17][18] Sotheby’s noted that contemporary Chinese art has rapidly changed the contemporary Asian art world into one of the most dynamic sectors on the international art market.[19] During the global economic crisis, the contemporary Asian art market and the contemporary Chinese art market experienced a slow down in late 2008.[20][21] The market for Contemporary Chinese and Asian art saw a major revival in late 2009 with record level sales at Christie’s.[22] For centuries largely made-up of European and American buyers, the international buying market for Chinese art has also began to be dominated by Chinese dealers and collectors in recent years.[23] In was reported in 2011, China has became the world’s second biggest market for art and antiques, accounting for 23 percent of the world’s total art market, behind the United States (which accounts for 34 percent of the world’s art market).[24]

One of the areas that has revived art concentration and also commercialized the industry is the 798 Art District in Dashanzi of Beijing. The artist Zhang Xiaogang sold a 1993 painting for USD $ 2.3 million in 2006, which included blank faced Chinese families from the Cultural Revolution era,[25] while Yue Minjun‘s work Execution in 2007 was sold for a then record of nearly $6 million at Sotheby’s.[26] such as Stanley Ho, the owner of the Macau Casinos, and casino developer Stephen Wynn, would capitalize on the art trends. Items such as Ming Dynasty vases and assorted Imperial pieces were auctioned off.

Other art works produced in China or Hong Kong were sold in places such as Christie’s including a Chinese porcelain piece with the mark of Emperor Qianlong sold for HKD $ $151.3 million. A 1964 painting “All the Mountains Blanketed in Red” was sold for HKD $35 million. Auctions were also held at Sotheby’s where Xu Beihong‘s 1939 masterpiece Put Down Your Whip sold for HKD $72 million.[27] The industry is not limited to fine arts, as many other types of contemporary pieces were also sold. In 2000, a number of Chinese artists were included in Documenta and the Venice Biennale of 2003. China now has its own major contemporary art showcase with the Venice Biennale. Fuck Off was a notorious art exhibition which ran alongside the Shanghai Biennial Festival in 2000 and was curated by independent curator Feng Boyi and contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.

By expressthrougharts Posted in China

Italian Folk Dance

Italian Folk Dance has been an integral part of Italian culture for centuries. Dance has been a continuous thread in Italian life from Dante through the Renaissance, the advent of the Tarantella, and the modern revivals of folk music and dance.

Middle Ages

The carol or carole (carola in Italian), a circle or chain dance which incorporates singing, was the dominant Medieval dance form in Europe from at least the 12th through the 14th centuries. This form of dance was found in Italy as well and although Dante has a few fleeting references to dance, it is Dante’s contemporary Giovanni del Virgilio (floruit 1319-1327) who gives us the earliest mention of Italian folk dance. He describes a group of women leaving a church in Bologna at the festa of San Giovanni; they form a circle with the leader singing the first stanza at the end of which the dancers stop and, dropping hands, sing the refrain. The circle then reforms and the leader goes on to the next stanza.[1]


But it is Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) who illustrates the social function of dance in the Decameron (about 1350-1353). In Boccaccio’s masterpiece, a group of men and women have traveled to a countryside villa to escape the Black Death and they tell a series of stories to while away the time. But there are also social activities before and after the stories which include song and dance.[1][2] After breakfast at the beginning of the first day:

“E levate le tavole, con ciò fosse cosa che tutte le donne carolar sapessero e similmente i giovani e parte di loro ottimamente e sonare e cantare, comandò la reina che gli strumenti venissero; e per comandamento di lei, Dioneo preso un liuto e la Fiammetta una viuola, cominciarono soavemente una danza a sonare; [107] per che la reina con l’altre donne insieme co’ due giovani presa una carola, con lento passo, mandati i famigliari a mangiare, a carolar cominciarono; e quella finita, canzoni vaghette e liete cominciarono a cantare. [108]”[3]
“Breakfast done, the tables were removed, and the queen bade fetch instruments of music; for all, ladies and young men alike, knew how to tread a measure, and some of them played and sang with great skill: so, at her command, Dioneo having taken a lute, and Fiammetta a viol, they struck up a dance in sweet concert; [107] and, the servants being dismissed to their repast, the queen, attended by the other ladies and the two young men, led off a stately carol; which ended they fell to singing ditties dainty and gay. [108]”[4]

For each of the ten days, song and dance are part of the storytellers’ activities – at the end of the sixth day:

“[037] E poi che bagnati si furono e rivestiti, per ciò che troppo tardi si faceva, se ne tornarono a casa, dove trovarono le donne che facevano una carola a un verso che facea la Fiammetta…”[5]
“[037] Then, as the hour was very late, they did but bathe, and as soon as they had resumed their clothes, returned to the ladies, whom they found dancing a carol to an air that Fiammetta sang…”[6]

And further after storytelling on the seventh day:

“intorno della bella fontana di presente furono in sul danzare, quando al suono della cornamusa di Tindaro e quando d’altri suon carolando. [009]”[7]
“they presently gathered for the dance about the fair fountain, and now they footed it to the strains of Tindaro’s cornemuse, and now to other music. [009]”[8]

The dance passages in the Decameron show that the carol was always sung but could be accompanied by instrumental music as well, both men and women danced though women seem to dance more often than men, and all knew how to dance.[1]

Boccaccio also uses two other terms besides carola to describe the dances done, danza and ballo. Some scholars assume that all the terms are synonymous since the dance forms are given no distinctive description,[9] but others take these to mean separate dances and trace the names forward to the Renaissance dances bassadanza and ballo.[2]

  Dance in the countryside

These descriptions from Boccaccio are, of course, all of townsfolk dancing but the Decameron also gives at least a glimpse at peasant dances as well. In the second story of the Eighth Day about the priest and Monna Belcolore, of the latter the story says:

“e oltre a ciò era quella che meglio sapeva sonare il cembalo e cantare L’acqua corre la borrana, e menare la ridda e il ballonchio, quando bisogno faceva, che vicina che ella avesse, con bel moccichino e gentile in mano. [010]”[10]
“Moreover she had not her match in playing the tabret and singing: “The borage is full sappy”, and in leading a brawl or a breakdown, no matter who might be next her, with a fair and dainty kerchief in her hand. [010]”[11]

The two terms for dance that Boccaccio uses, ridda and ballonchio, both refer to round dances with singing.[12][13] Another variant of the round dance with song is the Righoletto, known from Florence and the surrounding countryside in the 14th and 15th centuries[12]

 Istanpitta and others

In a 14th century Italian manuscript in the British Library (Add. 29987), folios 55v-58r and 59v-63v, contain 15 monophonic pieces of music, the first eight of which are labeled istanpitta. Of the next seven pieces, 4 are called saltarello, one trotto, one Lamento di Tristano, and the final one is labeled La Manfredina. These are the only known examples of instrumental dance music from Italy in the Middle Ages and all of them have similarities to earlier French dance pieces called estampie.[14][15]

There is divided opinion on the question of whether the estampie / istanpitta was actually a dance or simply a musical form. Curt Sachs in his World History of the Dance[16] believes the strong rhythm of the music, the name, which he derives from a term “to stamp”, and literary references point to the estampie definitely being a dance. Vellekoop, on the other hand, looks at the evidence and concludes that estampie was simply a name for early instrumental music.[15]

The other seven dances in the manuscript have the same general musical structure as those labeled “istanpitta” but are simpler and proabably more suitable for dancing.[14] Saltarello is a dance name found in later centuries as well but the later examples may not refer to the same dance as these 14th century pieces.[17] The last two dances in the manuscript, Lamento di Tristano and La Manfredina are notable as being pairs of related dances, a scheme which became common in Renaissance dance.[14]

 Depictions of dance

Lorenzetti 1338-40

One of the earliest known depictions of Italian folk dance is part of a set of frescoes at the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (about 1285-1348). Part of his Allegory of Good Government (Effetto del Buon Governo) painted about 1338-40 shows a group of nine dancers, all women and accompanied by another woman singing and playing on the tambourine, executing a “bridge” figure where dancers go under the joined hands of the two lead dancers.[1]

Andrea Bonaiuti

Another 14th century illustration comes from the Florentine painter Andrea Bonaiuti (1343–1377). One of his series of paintings The Church Militant and Triumphant (Chiesa militante e trionfante) done in 1365 at a chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence also shows women dancing accompanied by a woman on tambourine.[1]


It can be seen in Simone Prodenzani’s Liber Saporecti (or Il Saporetto), published 1415, which describes music and dance at an imaginary court, and from other works, that in the early 15th century the direction of transmission of dance forms was from the popular folk dances of the towns and countryside to the courts of the nobility. But a new attitude appears at court which elevates dance to an art form.[1] In the Medieval period, no writer describes dance steps or figures, it being assumed that everyone knew how to dance.[2] By the early Renaissance the simple circle and chain dances of the earlier centuries still exist – there are references to the round dance (ridda) and dancing in circles as late as the early 16th century in Straparola‘s Le piacevoli notti (The Facetious Nights of Straparola).[18] But we also find that couple dances and mimetic elements now appear and formal choreographies emerge for the first time. This new Art of the Dance can especially be seen at the major courts of Milan, Padua, Venice, Florence, Bologna, Pesaro, Urbino and Naples.[1]

  Dance manuals

With dancing elevated to new heights, dancing masters make their appearance at court and the first dance manuals are known from the middle of the 15th century.[19]

  • Domenico da Piacenza: De arte saltandi & choreas ducendi. De la arte di ballare et danzare (mid-15th century)
  • Antonio Cornazano: Libro del’arte del danzare (about 1455)
  • Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro: De practica seu arte tripudii vulgare opusculum (about 1463)
  • Fabritio Caroso: Il Ballarino (1581) Venice
  • Fabritio Caroso: Nobilita di Dame (1600) Venice
  • Livio Lupi: Mutanze di gagliarda, tordiglione, passo e mezzo, canari e passegi (1600) Palermo
  • Cesare Negri: Le Gratie d’Amore (1602) Milan & reissued as Nuove Inventione di Balli (1604) Milan

The three 15th century treatises divide their dances into two types, the bassadanza and the ballo,[19] possibly related to the earlier simple dance forms of Boccaccio’s time.[2] The bassadanza, allied to the similar French basse dance, is a slow dignified dance without leaps or hops, while the ballo was a livelier dance often containing pantomimic elements. The terms saltarello or piva were sometimes used for more sprightly versions of the ballo. The dances are for couples, holding hands or in lines.[19][20] Dances in the manuscripts were often given rather fanciful names, e.g. Lioncello, Gioioso and Rosina, which are often found in more than one work and occasionally as dance names in later times as well.[19][21]

  Late Renaissance dance

In the late 16th and early 17th century manuals of Caroso and Negri, a variety of dance types can be seen: slow processional dances, longways, various dances for single couples and even a few for trios or five dancers. All are social dances for both sexes with the men’s steps being more athletic than the women’s. In all the dances the upper body is kept erect, the arms are quiet and there is little movement above the waist.[22]

Dance suites usually started with a walking sequence, pavana, a term often found in the music of the time but almost never in dance manuals. The passo e mezzo (literally step-and-a-half) seems to have been a faster variant of the pavana. The faster, athletic gagliarda often followed the pavana but was also done as a separate dance. Other similar fast afterdances were the tordiglione and the saltarello (another term seen more often in music than dance descriptions). Further types were the Spagnoletta and the canario with its unique stamping patterns.[23]

Some of these names are seen again in the 1588 poem about life in Naples, Ritratto … di Napoli by Gian Battista del Tufo (about 1548-1600) where dances like Spagnoletto or Tordiglione, and Rogier, Lo Brando and Passo e mezzo are mentioned but not described. But he does tell of a dance with Arab influence and movements from Malta, the Sfessania. Some decades later we find Villanella, and once again Ruggiero, Sfessania and Spagnoletta in Giambattista Basile‘s collection of Neapolitan fairy tales, the Pentameron (published 1634-36). No reference is made in either work to the name which would later be the definitive dance of Naples, the Tarantella, but Bragaglia thinks that the Sfessania can be regarded as the ancestor of that dance.[13]

Even by the late Renaissance and the elaborate choreographies of Caroso, a link between court dance and country or folk dance can be seen. Elements of folk dance invigorate courtly dances and folk dances take over movements and styles from courtly dance. The difference between the two forms was likely one of style and elegance.[22]

  18th & 19th centuries

By the 18th century, the name Tarantella does appear in illustrations and travelers’s accounts in Southern Italy. When the German writer Goethe describes the Tarantella which he saw performed in Naples during his trip to Italy in 1786-87, it appears as a dance for women only, two girls dancing with castanets accompanied by a third on the tambourine.[13][24] Madame de Staël had also traveled in Italy and in her 1817 novel Corinne, she has her heroine dance the Tarantella as a solo.[25][26] But the Tarantella as a couple dance telling a story of love in mime does appear in a description by Orgitano in the middle of the 19th century.[27]

Also appearing in illustrations and texts is the Saltarello as a rustic dance of Romagna in Central Italy. This is a name which also appears in the earliest Italian dance music and throughout the Renaissance. It is not clear, however, that these various mentions represent the same or even related dances.[17]

In the North, in Venice, there was the “wild courtship dance”, known as Furlana or Forlana which was danced by Casanova in 1775.[28]

References to figure dances similar to English Country Dances and French Contradanses also appear as early as the first part of the 18th century. Dances of this type from the 18th and 19th centuries in Italy include La Contraddanza, Quadriglia and Il Codiglione.[13] A letter from the English writer and politician Horace Walpole dated 1740 from Florence declares “The Italians are fond to a degree of our country dances”[29]

 Dance research

One of the earliest attempts to systematically collect folk dances is Gaspare Ungarelli’s 1894 work Le vecchie danze italiane ancora in uso nella provincia bolognese (“Old Italian dances still in use in the province of Bologna”) which gives brief descriptions and music for some 30 dances.[30]

In 1925, Benito Mussolini‘s government set up the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND) or National Recreational Club as a means of promoting sports and cultural activities and one of its accomplishments was a wide survey of folk music and dance in Italy at that time. The work was published in 1931 as Costumi, musica, danze e feste popolari italiane (“Italian popular customs, music, dance and festivals”). In September 1945 OND was replaced by a new organization, the Ente Nazionale Assistenza Lavoratori (ENAL), headquartered in Rome. In partnership with the International Folk Music Council, ENAL sponsored a Congress and Festival in Venice September 7–11, 1949 which included many of the outstanding researchers in Italian folklore as well as folk dance and music groups from various Italian regions.[31][32]

ENAL was dissolved in late 1978 but earlier in October 1970, the Italian folklore groups who had been members of ENAL set up a separate organization, which in 1978 became the Federazione Italiana Tradizioni Populari (FITP). The FITP publishes a newsletter and a scholarly publication Il Folklore D’Italia.[33]

Some prominent 20th century Italian folk dance researchers are Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Diego Carpitella, Antonio Cornoldi, Bianca Maria Galanti, Giorgio Nataletti, Placida Staro and Paolo Toschi. (see Bibliography)

An interest in preserving and fostering folk art, music and dance among Italian-Americans and the dedication and leadership of Elba Farabegoli Gurzau led to the formation of the Italian Folk Art Federation of America (IFAFA) in May 1979. The group sponsors an annual conference and has published a newsletter, Tradizioni, since 1980.[34]

 Folk dances by region

Regions of Italy

  Northern Italy

Northern Italy refers to the regions of Aosta, Piemonte, Liguria, Lombardia, Venetia, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli and Trentino.

  • Monferrina: Monferrina is a dance in 6/8 time originating in the Piedmont district of Monferrat but now widespread in northern and central Italy. It has a two-part structure, promenade followed by a couple figure.[35][36]
  • Girometta: Peasant couple dance of Bologna in 2/4 time in three parts, a promenade around, the dance proper, and a final turning figure.[37]
  • Giga: In this 6/8 rhythm dance, the couples make two promenades and then begin the dance proper: hand-in-hand two steps forward, then change hands and go two steps backward; the couple then interlaces arms and dances, then the man raises his arms with the woman turning underneath them to separate and begin the dance over.[35][38]
  • Ruggero: This dance in 2/4 rhythm is done by two men and two women in the form of a diamond, with the men opposite the women. One couple makes four promenade tours around, the woman then stops to form a group with the second couple who then all circle around. They then separate and go to the first man and make another tour returning to place. The dance begins again with the other couple starting the figures.[35][39]
  • Galletta: A rustic dance in 6/8 time from the province of Bologna. In the Valle di Reno it is done with one man and two women, one on each side of the man, while in Valle di Savenna the dance is for two men and two women, the men in the center, back-to-back, with their partners in front of them.[40]
  • Veneziana: Well-known dance of Bologna done by four dancers or sometimes more (in Pianora), accompanied by a song. The formation is a diamond when done by four dancers or two facing rows of men and women when more than four take part. Men and women cross over to each other’s positions during the dance.[41]
  • Bergamasca: La Bergamasca is known from Romagna as a dance for a single couple but another type uses three couples. Ungarelli describes a third type in 2/4 time with turning figures.[13][42]

  Weapon dances

Several types of weapon dances are known from Italy, the mock battle (Moresca), sword dances and stick dances. A number of these are from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy:

  • Spadonari di San Giorio: A sword dance done for the festival of San Giorgio in the Piedmont village of San Giorio di Susa. There is a historical prolog section, followed by the sword dance proper, and then a procession and banquet. The six swordsmen, selected from the best looking men in the village and costumed in white with red vertical bands and black felt hats with flowers, are armed with a large, slightly curved sword. There are five figures to the dance all performed to a drum roll in march rhythm:
1) With a leap, the dancers turn in the air and move into a square formation and shake their swords
2) With a short leap, the points of the swords are joined on the ground, then again at shoulder level
3) They return to place and drag the swords on the ground making a furrow
4) With four synchronized leaps, all turn east, west, south and north
5) The swords are exchanged by throwing them in the air
The dancers then march off to the drum.[43][44]
  • Spadonari di Venaus: Sword dance from Venaus in the Val di Susa done for the feast of San Biagio. Four men clothed in a fastastic imitation of medieval warriors perform with large two-handed swords. The dance lasts about an hour and has only a few figures: raising the sword in salute, circling the sword in the air, striking the sword of their adversary and throwing the swords in the air in exchange.[43]
  • Spadonari di San Vicenzo: Done for St. Vincent’s Day (January 21) in the village of Giaglione in Val di Susa, four swordsmen in plumed helmets take part in a procession which finishes at the piazza where a mock fight is held.[43]
  • Bal dâ Sabbre: A sword dance from Fenestrelle in Piedmont done for the feast of San Luigi (August 25). The dance is done by 16 spadonari preceded by two Heralds and a drummer and followed by a Harlequin and a “Turk”. This is not a mock combat but a point-and-hilt type sword dance with typical “rose” figures which imprison the Harlequin. In the second part of the dance, the swords are dropped, and colored ribbons attached to a pole are taken up and woven into braids.[35][45]

Lachera group

  • Lachera: This dance, from the town of Rocca Grimalda in Piedmont, is a transformed weapon dance. According to tradition, it derived from a revolt against the medieval tyrant Isnardo Malaspina. An engaged couple are accompanied in the dance by an escort of two masked Lacheri who do a characteristic dance with high leaps. Also present are three armed figures, two guerrieri and a zuavo.[35][43]


The region of Friuli has been a crossroads for different cultures throughout the centuries. The inhabitants are mostly Italian speaking the local Friulan dialect but German and Slovenian are also spoken in some areas.[35][46][47]

  • Furlana: Widespread couple dance in 3/4 time with several variations throughout Friuli. It usually involves a handkerchief and several figures which can be seen as flirtation, courting, fighting and making-up.
  • Vinca or Bal Del Truc: A couple dance in 2/4 which alternates a skipping figure with a mock scolding with stamping, clapping and finger pointing. The dance is almost identical with a number of other folk dances from central and eastern Europe.
  • Lavandera: La Lavandera or the “Washerwoman” is a couple dance in 2/4 rhythm with two parts, one with the women miming washing movements while the men strut like roosters and the other a kind of antique polka.
  • Quadriglia di Aviano: A dance in square formation for four couples in 2/4 rhythm. In the pattern of the dance, the head couples change places followed by a figure where all the men proceed to the women on their right, do a turning figure with them and then go on to repeat this with the second woman to their right. The side couples then exchange places and the men repeat their travel figure which brings them back to their original partner.
  • Torototele: Dance done by several couples, the women with a flower in one hand which they use to menace the man.
  • Stajare: A dance originally from the Austrian province of Styria done by the nuptial couple at a wedding. A semicircle of pairs are arranged around the central couple. In the countryside, the dance is typically done in the granary as the only place large enough to accommodate relatives and friends. The dance, in waltz time, consists of an invitation to the dance and then the dance proper, accompanied by a four-part song.
  • L’esclave: Couple dance widespread in Friuli, partners approach and move away, the woman, holding her apron in her hand, turns while the man circles, snapping his fingers, the dance ending with a series of turns.
  • Resiana or Resianca: The Val Resia region of Friuli is an island of Slavic language and culture in Italy.[48] In his 1848 study Joseph Bergmann (“Das Thal Resia und die Resianer in Friaul”, in: Anzeige-Blatt für Wissenschaft und Kunst 71, 1848, pp. 46–50) describes the Resianka of Val Resia as one done with a row of men opposite a row of women where the partners move back and forth toward and away from each other and then dance in place,[49] always turning on the toes and never touching their partners. The woman holds the ends of her apron or a handkerchief while the man holds the front of his jacket or vest.[35]

  South Tyrol

South Tyrol is an autonomous province of Italy with a majority German-speaking population. The dance culture is similar to that of Southern Germany and the Austrian state of Tyrol with such typical dances as Ländler, Schuhplattler, Dreirtanz, Schustertanz, Bregenzer and Masolka.[50][51]

  • Schuhplattler: This couple dance with its characteristic men’s slapping patterns is known in Germany in Upper Bavaria and in Austria. The traditional area of the Schuhplattler in South Tyrol includes Passeier Valley, Sarntal, Eisacktal, Puster Valley and Drautal. The dance could still be found in its original setting until the 1930s in some areas but is now limited to performing groups.[52]
  • Ländler: Ahrntaler Ländler, which represents an older form of the Ländler, was recorded in 1940 in the villages of St. Jakob, St. Peter and Prettau in the Ahrntal.
  • Siebenschritt: This very widely spread couple dance is known from various parts of Europe. It was recorded as still surviving in Passeier Valley in 1941, in de:Florutz in Fersental in 1937 and in Lüsen in 1941.[51]
  • Knödeldrahner
  • Boarischer: The Boarischer is known in a number of different forms in Austria and in South Tyrol. Recently the dance has been described in Tauferertal and Ahrntal.[51]

 Central Italy

Central Italy refers to the areas of Tuscania, Marche, Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzi e Molise.

  • Saltarello Romagna
  • Saltarello Ciociaria
  • Lu Sardarellu: widespread in Central Italy but typical of the Marches. The dance, done by a single couple at a time, has three sections a) lu spondape where the man stamps while the woman dances in place b) lu filu where the dancers approach side-by-side while stamping, going forward and back to place c) lu fru with the dancers dancing around in a circle.
  • Laccio D’Amore: An ancient traditional Maypole-type dance from Penna Sant’Andrea in Abruzzi, usually for twelve couples. The dance has several parts beginning with the men and women meeting and going in a procession with the pole. This is followed by a Saltarello-style dance by the couples and then a round dance where the men (unsuccessfully) court the women. A circle is then formed around the pole, the dancers take the colored ribbons and dance a weaving figure. The ritual ends with a leave-taking dance. In the modern version, a polka precedes the weaving figure.[35][53]
  • Trescone: A very old dance from Tuscany in a lively 2/4 rhythm done by four couples in a square. The women dance lightly and demurely in place while the men make rapid turns and pass from one woman to another in a bravura fashion. The dance may be done in the open air at agricultural festivals or by guests at a wedding. When done at weddings, a ring of singers surrounds the four dancing couples, often improvising salacious verses about the married couple. The dance is also found in Emilia and other areas of Central Italy in several different forms.[35][54]
  • Tresconeto: A fast dance from Tuscany in 6/8 time resembling the Saltarello. The dance is usually done by a single dancer or couple and the continually increasing tempo of the dance is meant to test the endurance of the dancers. It was known in the villages of the Lunigiana district performed especially on the first Sunday of Lent.[35][54]

 Southern Italy

Southern Italy refers to the regions of Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicilia.

  • Tarantella Napolitana
  • Tarantella Calabrese
  • Ndrezzata: The name of this dance comes from intrecciata, the braid. It is a specialty of Buonopane, a part of the commune of Barano d’Ischia, on the island of Ischia. Immigrants to the Americas brought the dance to New York where it was done on the streets in 1916 and 1917, and to Buenos Aires in 1924. In its classic form, the dance has 16 dancers with men and women taking an equal part in the dance which is accompanied by drum, flute and song. The men carry a small stick in the right hand and a wooden sword in the left, the women reverse this. The dance is in two parts with 7 tableaus in each part and consists of a crossing and interlacing of blows of the sticks and swords.[35][43]
  • Pizzica: Traditional dance (in 2/4 time) of simple structure from the Apulia region.
  • La Pecorara or A’Pasturara: Traditional dance from Calabria in 6/8 time done to bagpipe and accordion accompaniment by one or two couples. Steps are usually close to the ground with occasional small leaps. The man, with arms akimbo keeps all his attention on the woman who holds her dress in her right hand with her left bent sharply at the hip.[35]
  • La Vala: A dance of the Albanian ethnic group in Calabria done in a single circle with men and women holding hands, belts or a basket-weave hold; or there may be two circles, one of men and one of women. The dance is accompanied by songs of the Albanian national hero Scanderbeg.[35]


  • Tarantella Siciliana
  • Taratata: A religious sword dance dance from Casteltermini danced at the feast of the Holy Cross held the last weekend of May. A large procession, mostly on horseback, is led by a corps of 20 or so dancers who are all from the ceto of flax carders. The dancers have two recurved swords or scimitars, the right hand sword being used for combat while the left hand one produces the rhythm, ta-ra-ta-ta, which gives the dance its name.[43]
  • Contraddanza


  • Ballu tundu: A closed or open circle dance also known as Ballu Sardu, this ancient form is found all over Sardinia in many variations.[35]


The peninsula of Istria, today part of the country of Croatia, was ruled for centuries by the Venetian Republic and became a margraviate of the Kingdom of Austria in the 19th century. Italians made up about a third of the population of nearly 350,000 in 1900.(Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition). Italian cultural influence has resulted in the resemblance of many Istrian dances to those of Northern Italy. This applies to dances done by the modern day Croatian population and by the Italian national minority found today in the larger towns and some villages in the western part of Istria. Dances done by both the Croatian and the Italian communities include Molferina or Mafrina and Kvadrilja. Dances specific to the Italians include La Veneziana, Bersagliera, Denci, and more importantly the very similar dances Vilota and Furlana.[55]

  • Furlana: As danced by the Italian community in the town of Vodnjan, this is a dance for six people consisting of two trios with one man between two women. The dance in 6/8 rhythm is composed of three figures done to accompaniment by violin and cello.[55]
  • Sette Passi: In this dance from Sveti Lovreč (in Italian San Lorenzo del Pasenatico) the man and woman face each other, embrace and then take three side-steps to the left, to the right and again to the left, then placing hands on shoulders make a full turn or two and start the dance over.[35]


Dalmatia is today part of Croatia but during the Middle Ages and Renaissance was under Venetian control. Dalmatia, especially its maritime cities, once had a substantial Italian population but this was reduced to 3% by 1900.(Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition)

  • Moresca: The Moresca as a weapon dance and pageant portraying a battle between Christians and Saracens was known in Italy at least as early as the 15th century but seems to have died out by the middle of the 19th century. It still exists on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia as Moreška but the battle here is between the Moors and the Turks. The dance is known from Split (in Italian Spalato), Korčula (Curzola) and Lastovo (Lagosta). There are differing accounts of the origin of the Dalmatian dance, some tracing to Italian and others to Slavic roots
By expressthrougharts Posted in Italy