Home Buddhist space Sacred Art Zhou Fang – painter during the mid-Tang dynasty

Zhou Fang – painter during the mid-Tang dynasty


Zhou Fang

T’ang Dynasty

Beauties Wearing Flowers (46*180cm)
Beauties Wearing Flowers (46*180cm)

Zhou Fang (c. 730-800 CE, Chinese: 周昉, Wade-Giles Chou Fang) was one of two influential painters during the mid-Tang dynasty. He was also known as Zhou Jing Xuan and Zhong Lang. Zhou lived in the Tang capital of Chang’an, which is now modern Xi’an, during the 8th century. He came from a noble background and this was reflected in his works, which included 簪花仕女图, translated as Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers. He was influenced by the pure and detailed style of Gu Kai-zhi and Lu tan-wei from the Six Dynasties in his work. The late Tang dynasty art critic Zhu Jing Xuan said: “Zhou Fang’s Buddha, celestial beings, figures, and paintings of beautiful women are all incredible masterpieces.”


Tang Dynasty

Portrait Painting


Chinese ancient painting gained its all-around development in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The unity of the country in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, especially during the 100 years of the mid-Tang Dynasty, brought along stable politics, strong national strength, prosperous economy, harmonious ethnic relationship as well as active international culture exchanges. This period is of far-reaching significance in the history of Chinese painting. Famous painters emerged in large numbers, over 200 of which were recorded. Influenced by cultures from the Western Regions and other foreign countries, their techniques and topics became more and more abundant. Portrait painters put more emphasis on real life and people’s temperament; landscape painting was divided into two schools — green-and-blue painting (qinglu hua) and wash painting (shuimo hua), and styles in South China and North China were different; many new techniques, such as meticulous painting (gongbi hua), ink and wash of light color, Mogu (a way of painting by using color directly without first making sketches), had been introduced into the flower-and-bird painting; religious painting was even more bright and colorful. In a word, the artistic achievements of the Tang Dynasty surpassed all previous dynasties. Painting of the Tang Dynasty affected other oriental countries and was a peak of Chinese painting history.

Figures in paintings by Wu Daozi were of unique style. Unlike his predecessor Gu Kaizhi, whose stroke lines were slender and forceful but lacked variety, Wu’s strokes were full of rhythm, expressing the internal world of the characters. He was adept to catch the moment of people’s emotion and movement, emphasizing on the creation of the figure’s overall image. His murals of beautiful woman were the most splendid. He formed his own style, which later influenced Japan, Korea and other countries.

Chang’an (today’s Xi’an City in Shaanxi Province), the capital of the Tang Dynasty, was teemed with talented painters. Brothers Yan Lide and Yan Liben, Yuchi Bazhina and his son Yuchi Yiseng from the Western Regions in the early Tang Dynasty, Zhang Xuan, Zhou Fang in the mid-Tang period and Lu Lengjia, Sun Wei in the late Tang period were the representatives. Ladies with Head-pinned Flowers by Zhou Fang depicted the leisurely and carefree life of court ladies in the Tang Dynasty — the five ladies wearing magnificent clothes with a maid, strolling in the flower garden. The clothes and hairstyle of the five ladies are similar. Some are playing with little dogs; some are staring at flowers. It is an authentic depiction of leisurely, lonely and peaceful life in court. The background is very simple as the artistic conception of the painting is mostly reflected through the expressions of female figures. Another successful painter in the Tang Dynasty was Han Huang, who was adept to paint cattle and sheep. His representative works were Wenyuan Tu, Migration of Farmers, and Rural Lifestyle. Five Cattle was his handed-down work. He used free and rough lines to draw five lively bulls, with clear gradation of ink colors.

As an important component of portrait painting, murals in the Tang Dynasty were of high artistic level. Image of figures changed its rough pattern to exquisite, refined and vivid. Men in pictures were grace while women were plump and attractive. The statues of Bodhisattva were dignified, quiet and gentle. All this reveal that paintings in the Sui and Tang dynasties were closely related to real life, and people’s care for feelings had surpassed their belief of Buddhist Heaven. With enthusiasm to real life, extraordinary creativity, and excellent painting skills, numerous splendid pictures were produced.

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