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Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Terracotta 赤陶

Terracotta 赤陶

Terracotta 赤陶 is unglazed pottery and was commonly used for roof tiles and other outside building items. Some of these items, particularly roof tiles, were also made with glazed pottery. Perhaps the most famous use of terracotta was in Emperor Qin Shuhuang's tomb for the Terracotta Army 兵马俑. One of the most common areas to add distinctive decorations were the eaves tiles 瓦当, which are the last and most conspicuous tiles on roofs. Some eaves tiles are shown below.

cloud design
卷云纹瓦当 西汉公元前202〜公元8陕西省西安市汉安城遗址出土首都博物馆 Eaves Tile with Rolling Cloud Design Excavated from the Han'ancheng Site, Xi'an, Shaanxi Western Han (202 BCE — 8 CE), Capital Museum, Beijing

The tile above shows a rolling cloud design and the tile below has a lotus design. Both forms of design are seen in other mediums, including jade and porcelain.

lotus design
莲花纹瓦当 河南省北魏洛阳遗址 北魏(386-534),首都博物馆 Eaves Tile with Lotus Design Excavated from the Luo Yang Northern Wei Site, Henan Northern Wei (386—584). Capital Museum, Beijing

The character for happiness is commonly used in decorations. The eaves tile shown below from the Humble Administrator's Garden is stamped a stylized variation of this character.

Eaves tile with wan character
瓦当 苏州拙政园 Eaves tile with xi character Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou

The best terracotta designs to be found are in temples and palaces. The very impressive looking dragon below sits on top of the Seven Buddha Hall at Bao En Temple in Suzhou.

Dragon on the roof of Seven Buddha Hall at Bao En Temple
苏州报恩寺七佛宝殿 Dragon on the roof of Seven Buddha Hall at Bao En Temple, Suzhou

The Master of Nets Garden 网师园 inside the Humble Administrator's Garden 拙政园, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in Suzhou, has some of the finest and best known carved brick 砖雕 artifacts. The carved brick artifacts below are located on the gate structure at the Master of Nets Garden.

Brick sculpture on a gate structure
网师园砖雕门楼 苏州拙政园 Brick sculpture on Master of Nets Garden gate structure Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou

Chinese gardens are good places to reflect on the ideals of peace, happiness, and longevity. The carved brick below features a stylized version of the longevity character 寿.

Long life character on carved brick
砖雕门楼寿 苏州拙政园网师园 Long life character on carved brick Master of Nets Garden, Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou

Open screen windows 漏窗 in Chinese temples are a feature from classical Chinese architecture. An example of this from Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou is shown below.

Open screen window
漏窗 杭州灵隐寺 Open screen window Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou

The crane is the most celebrated bird in Chinese art after the phoenix. It is a symbol of long life.

Crane
杭州灵隐寺 Crane Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou

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