Ancient Chinese architecture is unique in its wooden structure, skillfully built with traditional philosophical ideas and aesthetic tastes to show a glamorous presentation. These masterpieces are presented in forms varying from single building to urban garden, as a valuable heritage of humankind which reflects artistic essence from thousands of years in Chinese civilizations.
Shanxi is well-known for national treasures of ancient architecture. So far more than 18,000 complex remains have been identified. Those exquisite and magnificent grand complexes last from Tang to Qin Dynasties over 1500 years, varying in distinctive styles in each period. Some standing out on main streets, others sitting in small villages, those architectures perceived the changes of the past around. As a result, Shanxi displays comprehensive architectural forms, although dominated by outstanding religious architectures. Affiliated with these architectures, painted sculptures, mural paintings, and colored glazes have also given these architectures a golden touch for magnificent completion.
In Chinese architectural philosophy, single buildings as an essential element were built within an open space, usually called “courtyard.” The courtyard units were linked one to another, further developing into a sophisticated complex. There complexes are carefully planned and arranged within a walled enclosure, normally made of stamped clay. The city/town was thus formed to reflect rulers’ initiatives based on the concept of social differentiations: more prestigious residences were settled in the center. Higher status residences sat on higher ground than the lowers. The complexes were built along the central axis balancing building arrangement.
With red walls and green tiles, the shape of the eaves is just like the wings of flying birds. Within limited space, ancient architects enliven the buildings by elaborate arrangement and clever decorations. Traveling through the complexes, beautiful scenery passes by like jumping music notes. Having a bird-eye’s view of the whole scene, they are just in rhythmic harmony. The ancient architectures in Shanxi are just like silent music, serving as the bridge between the past and the present.
Chinese frescoes, the same as the others in the world, originated from prehistoric rock painting. After the Qin and Han Dynasties, especially in the period from the Southern - Northern Dynasties to the Sui - Tang Dynasties when Buddhism and Taoism flourished, frescoes in temples became the main stream of wall paintings. This traditional art lasted to the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
If we put all of the frescoes from nearly 100 temples all over the province together, it may well cover an area of over 27,000 square meters. These artworks are well connected in ages, with a wide range of topics, displaying various styles and superb art of paintings. Among them, many masterpieces of Chinese art history can be seen in this gallery.
Painted sculptures, i.e. painted clay sculptures, are the major content of Chinese sculptural arts and temple architectural arts.
The number of existing painted sculptures in Shanxi has reached more than 13,000. Due to their wide distribution and long time span, they are rarely found in China. Masterpieces of painted sculptures in Shanxi, from the Northern Dynasty on, appeared in every dynasty, which formed a complete and orderly system of painted sculptures.
Colored glaze refers to a kind of glazed pottery made in low temperature with various colors ranging from green, yellow, blue, dark reddish brown, purple, black, peacock blue and brownish yellow. It has a long history of production but for architectural purpose started only in the Northern Wei Dynasty and mounted up in application during the Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties. However, these facts were recorded only in historical document but hard to be proved from any remains in existence. The earliest examples so far identified for complete architectural colored glaze in Shanxi dated back to the periods of the Song, Liao, Jin Dynasties. Various kinds of colorful glazes made the ancient architectures magnificent and lively, which added unique scenery to the world architectural history.
Shanxi, the most important origin of Chinese architectural glaze, has a long history of firing technique. It is carried forward and there are excellent works generation after generation. It is one in a thousand to have such a collection of works that is of a large amount, vast variety and high quality.