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Stone Relief, a combination of Chinese Painting and Sculpture

Stone relief is a form of sculpture that was popular in the Han Dynasty Pictures are chiseled into the Surface of a stone to make it look like a combination of painting and relief. The stone reliefs were put in ancestral halls and tombs as architectural decorations, but most of them are found on the brick walls in tombs. They are of great value in the research of Han Dynasty architecture, sculpture and painting. As a sculptural form, stone reliefs form a connecting link between the preceding bronzeware of the Qin Dynasty and the following sculptures of the Jin Dynasty (265-420) and the Southern and Northern Dynasties(420-581).

The scale and artistic level of a stone relief in a tomb reflect the social position of its owner, and most of the stone reliefs have been found in economically and culturally developed areas with plentiful stone materials. These areas include Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.

Shandong Province was a cultural center in ancient China, and the ruling Confucian ideas and ancient fairy tales provided the main subject matter for the reliefs. The reliefs are rich in content and theme, depicting manors, vehicles, social gatherings, hunting and war scenes as well as views of workshops. Natural scenery with birds, animals, fish, worms, the sun, the moon, stars, mountains and trees-as well as architectural designs and patterns-we real so drawn on the stones to add to their attraction and beauty.

Stone reliefs in Nan-yang, Henan Province, mainly depict figures from Chinese fairy tales, the lucky birds and animals and moon phase pictures. Most stone relief pictures were carved horizontally to provide a sense of movement that has great vigor and power.

Stone reliefs in Sichuan Province were cut into rectangular stones and some pictures were drawn vertically. Two examples are the historical stories, Return the Jade Intact To The State of Zhao and Jingke killing The Qin Emperor both of which are about 2 meters in length. Some reliefs in Sichuan are about 11 meters long portraying vehicles, acrobatics, dancing performances, farming practices, cooking scenes and historical stories. Compared with the stone reliefs in other Chinese areas, those in Sichuan are simpler, more lively and more natural. In the Western Han Dynasty, the walls, gates, bucket arches and tablets in the ruler's tombs and the walls in their ancestral halls were all constructed with stones and bricks. The stone reliefs were painted with red color., The stones were polished before the colors were applied, but they still appear rough, which conveys a free and natural beauty.

Han Dynasty stone reliefs built on traditional Chinese stone engraving techniques to develop a new school of sculpture. Stone reliefs last longer than ink-painted murals and have a three-dimensional effect. They are also valuable art works for research into the architecture, lives, customs and thought of the Han Dynasty. (Fig.3-7)(Fig.3-8)(Fig.3-9)

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