The Arts



Hanging Scrolls



Fig 1

The scroll painting is the most common and recognizable form of Chinese paintings. Arranged typically from top to bottom and with more length than width, they mimic the way in which the Chinese language is read- directing the eye from the top right to the bottom left. Often times, the object of the scroll painting is located at the bottom as this is the area where the trained Chinese eye would observe last. The context of the painting is set at the top while the setting is conveyed from the top to the bottom, with the main object at the bottom, as seen in the example at right.


The scroll painting evolved from simple scrolls of written prose including poems, short stories and Buddhist prayers. The practice of accompanying these writings with artistic depictions had been perfected by the scholar, official and aristocratic classes, who possessed the leisure time to devote to the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork.

It is believed that the desire to have paintings in scroll form arose from the seasonal nature of Chinese artwork. Because paintings usually followed a seasonal theme, a painting depicting the winter season could not be left on the wall year round, so the owner often would rotate the artwork so as to keep balance with the season and the subject of the art.

Texts and prayers that accompanied these paintings were often seasonally based as well, such as stories involving the autumn harvest or prayers for a floodless spring.

With the advent of the scroll, the rotation and storage of the 'off- season' artwork became easier.


Until the invention of paper in the 1st century CE, scroll paintings were produced on silk. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks made from pine soot and animal glue- oils were never used. The finished art work would then be mounted on scrolls made of small bamboo or rice stalk slats.

For the upper class who could afford it, the scroll paintings would be decorated with knots made of silk ribbon or a gold border.

Imperial Scrolls

Imperial scrolls, edicts and decrees used similar methods as those used in the production of artistic hanging scrolls. The key difference was that they had more width than length in order to set them apart from mere artistic expression.

While edicts were never meant to be hung for admiration, they were displayed at the Imperial city centers or town halls. The emperors reign title and imperial seals were present along with the text of the edict, almost always written in several different languages corresponding with the region.


The Arts :: Painting

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Copyright DateRichard R. Wertz Creative Commons License