The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty

September 28, 2010–January 2, 2011

Foreign Taste and Imagery

The vitality and imagination found in all media during the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) is due in large part to the creative synthesis of cultural and artistic traditions that defines this period in Chinese history. In addition to reuniting artistic traditions from north and south China, the Yuan dynasty also saw the use of Central and West Asian and Indo-Himalayan techniques, styles, and images in the art of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Motifs from one part of Asia were often mixed with others in ceramics, metalwork, and other goods produced at this time.

The interest in framing a surface, and, in particular, the use of a cartouche filled with additional imagery, is one of the hallmarks of the art of the Yuan period, and is shared with the art of the Islamic world.

The large, broad lotus petals often decorating the base of ceramics and metalwork, on the other hand, derive from Indo-Himalayan traditions, in which such motifs are usually found in Buddhist art. Buddhist imagery that mixed traditions from India, Nepal, and Tibet was influential in Yuan-period China. The flowering of this style is usually attributed to a Nepali artist named Anige (1244–1306) who rose to a position of prominence at the court in Dadu (now Beijing). However, it also reflects the decision by Khubilai Khan to patronize and practice the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. A similar blending of Indian and Nepali imagery is found in Tibetan art produced in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.