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Hanging scroll art in China

One of the many forms of traditional painting is the hanging scroll art in China. Other forms include handscrolls, album leaves and flat oval fans. A typical hanging scroll has measurement ranging from two to six feet in height. An entire painting can be viewed in a single hanging scroll. It is regarded as a lightweight and flexible painting, which can be changed for different occasions. It was believed that hanging scrolls were developed from tomb banners at the early Han dynasty, and its use has been widely practiced from the 10th century onwards. Calligraphy has greatly influenced the humble beginnings of hanging scroll. Now it is deemed as an art of its own.

The first scrolls were used in temples for religious purposes, specifically in practicing Buddhism. It appeals to many because it can be carried anywhere without difficulty. Initially, hanging scrolls bore calligraphy of Buddhist words and phrases. Buddha images can also be seen, including other ink artworks related to Buddhism. The popularity of hanging scrolls reached Japan during the late Kamakura period. Moreover, Shotoku Taishi, a Japanese prince, promoted the Buddhist tradition and teachings in Japan. The Japanese even developed its own calligraphy style from this. It was called bokuseki or ‘traces of ink’.

Handscrolls has also been popular in China as a painting artwork. It’s common measurements are: between 9-14 inches (height), with other painting reaching up to 29 feet long. Compared to hanging scrolls, handscrolls are viewed one portion at a time. Both are lightweight and portable.

Album leaves were also used in painting in China. During the Song dynasty, album leaves were developed from printing and book binding methods. These are small artworks that often come with a poem or painting on the next facing page. During the Tang dynasty, one particular painting form also emerged, and it was the use of Flat oval fans in painting. During the late Northern Song until the Southern Song, production of these fan paintings has increased. Another format worth mentioning is the Standing screen painting. These paintings were often used or placed in functional, moving furniture or decors, and were subjected to deterioration and typical wear and tear. Because of these, the screen paintings were often salvaged and used again in hanging scrolls. They were mounted and fixed by skillful scroll masters. Different types of paintings that we are now familiar to could have originated from other ancient forms.


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