In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Yuan Dynasty Art

  • Introduction

Art History Yuan Dynasty Art
Jennifer Purtle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0036


The art of the Yuan dynasty (1206–1368) is that produced in China under Mongolian rule. Traditional Chinese histories of the arts of this period, as well as many 20th-century accounts, have emphasized developments in Chinese-style arts. Since the late 20th century, scholarship in Europe, North America, and Asia has begun to address the vibrant multiculturalism of the arts in the Chinese portion of the Great Mongol Nation (Mongolian: Yeke Mongɣol Ulus, likely a translation of the Chinese Dai Menggu guo), bounded in the west by the eastern reaches of Hungary; in the east, by the Pacific Ocean; in the north, by the steppes; and in the south, by India and northern Vietnam. Just as the Yuan state was multilingual, so too its art assimilated the forms of multiple cultures that existed within the larger Mongolian Empire. Mongolian studies flourished from the 1950s to the 1980s in Europe and North America. This scholarship, on political and cultural histories of the Great Mongol Nation, grounded in both Mongolian and Chinese primary sources, sparked contemporary art-historical scholarship on the Yuan dynasty. Unlike the work of historians, which took a broad linguistic view of the period, even the most groundbreaking scholarship on Yuan dynasty art of that period was rooted in classical Chinese-language primary sources. Lack of engagement with primary sources in Mongolian, Persian, and Tibetan, coupled with the inaccessibility of China and Mongolia to scholars from other countries, especially in the West, produced scholarship on Yuan dynasty art that emphasized Chinese artistic media and forms. For much of the 20th century, the predominant subfield of Chinese art history was the history of painting. However, the arts of the Yuan dynasty include other important media, namely, architecture, urbanism, and the decorative arts, especially ceramics and textiles. The Yuan dynasty was the age in which blue-and-white porcelain was born and became a significant trade good. This was also a period in which traditional Chinese techniques of textile manufacture were transformed by contact with imported weaves and fibers. Additionally, given that the Yuan dynasty circulated artists and artisans from throughout Mongol-held lands, the arts of the Yuan also saw the development of sculpture, painting in non-Chinese styles, and metalwork.

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