The mural ‘Emperor Xiaowen and His Court’ depicts a walking-procession (presumably a religious one) that involves at least twenty members of the Emperor’s entourage. The Emperor himself heads the procession. He appears to be intending to dip his fingers in the cup filled with water (?), which is being held in front of him by one of his servants.
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The Emperor’s facial expression radiates calmness, which sets him visually apart from the rest of the entourage’s members that seem to be experiencing an array of different but predominantly positive emotions. The artist went about emphasizing the Emperor’s royal status by the mean of having him slightly elevated above others, within the composition’s spatial framework.
The fact that the procession’s participants are being depicted wearing richly decorated garments, and the fact that due to these garments’ sheer length they can be hardly considered the items intended for an everyday use, we can assume that the portrayed event is indeed rather extraordinary. What adds to the mural’s aesthetic value is that the author succeeded in accentuating the depicted event’s transitional subtleties (viewers do perceive it as such that is being in the state of motion).
As it was already mentioned, the mural ‘Emperor Xiaowen and His Court’ is carved in the limestone rock. What it means is that at the time of its making (522-523), the Chinese already possessed the knowledge of metallurgy, which in turn allowed them to make carving-chisels out of iron.
Because limestone is particularly prone to the forces of erosion, the state of the mural’s preservation suggests that, apart from knowing how to carve depictions in stone, the ancient Chinese artists also knew how to lessen the extent of the produced artifacts’ susceptibility to the elements of nature. Another technical aspect of the mural in question is that the applied polishing appears being of a supreme quality.
Given the fact that this polishing needed to be applied manually (by hand), we can well assume that there were a number of people involved in the process. In its turn, this serves as yet another indication that there is much of not only technological but also logistic complexity to the discussed mural. Such our assumption correlates rather well with what historians know about the developmental phases of the Chinese ancient civilization.
There can be a few doubts, as to the fact that the carved mural ‘Emperor Xiaowen and His Court’ was meant to commemorate the Emperor and the members of his court, as such that never ceased being observant of the early Buddhism’s ritualistic provisions.
In its turn, this was intended to convince the Emperor’s subjects that their ruler’s main agenda was concerned with acting on behalf of ordinary people (representing the bulk of believers). Moreover, because the author made a deliberate point in accentuating the Emperor’s ‘Buddhist’ looks (hence, his apparent calmness), there is a certain rationale in the assumption that the mural was supposed to serve as an additional proof that the Emperor is in fact radiates the spirit of a true divinity.
Therefore, we can say that the mural’s foremost social function was concerned with its potential ability to legitimize the Emperor’s authority in the eyes of onlookers. What it means is that, along with referring to the mural ‘Emperor Xiaowen and His Court’ in terms of art, we can also refer to as the art-related tool of an ideological indoctrination.
Qiang, Ning. “Imperial Portraiture as Symbol of Political Legitimacy: A New Study of the ‘Portraits of Successive Emperors’.” Ars Orientalis 35 (2008): 96-128.
Tsiang, Katherine. “Changing Patterns of Divinity and Reform in the Late Northern Wei.” The Art Bulletin 84. 2 (2002): 222-245.
- Ning Qiang, “Imperial Portraiture as Symbol of Political Legitimacy: A New Study of the ‘Portraits of Successive Emperors’.” Ars Orientalis 35 (2008): 113.
- Katherine Tsiang, “Changing Patterns of Divinity and Reform in the Late Northern Wei.” The Art Bulletin 84. 2 (2002): 238.