You’ll find dragons in the mythology of many ancient cultures. However, nowhere else in the world was the mythological Historical Dragon regarded with so much honor and respect as in China.
In early European and Western culture, including the visual arts, dragons were usually seen as representing evil and demons. In China and Asia, the dragon was almost always seen in a positive light. They were associated with life-giving rains and water sources. Breathing fire was a symbol of power and “good” supernatural forces.
The mythological value of the Chinese dragon still influences Chinese art, including the art of painting, today. This article will give a brief history of China’s dragon paintings.
Dragons in Chinese Mythology
Chinese dragons, also known as East Asian dragons, are considered legendary creatures in Chinese mythology. As a result, Chinese dragon art is found in almost all Chinese folk fares and East Asian culture.
These dragons are found in any color. Usually, the perception is that these dragons are composed of different animal parts. Generally, they are pictured as having a neck like a snake, a fish-like tail, a head like a camel, camel-like paws, and claws like an eagle. These legendary dragons have long serpentine bodies and are without wings. It was only later in Chinese art history that dragons were sometimes depicted as flying creatures as well.
Some scholars of Chinese dragon art believe that this collection of animal parts was based on the political union of several different tribes. Each tribe had another animal as its totem. Therefore, the dragon was a symbolic representation of the assimilation of these tribes into one single Chinese nation. However, according to other art scholars, this is an interesting theory. Still, the problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t explain the appearance of dragons long before political associations existed in ancient China.
Dragons have always been a potent and gracious symbol in Chinese culture. It is believed in the Chinese culture that dragons are something that has significant influence and that they control water and can prevent floods and typhoons. In Europe and the western world, dragons are seen as a representative of evil and demons. Still, breathing fire symbolizes power and “good” supernatural forces in China and Asia.
Chinese Dragon Art
Since ancient times, dragon artwork has been famous in China and Asia. And through the centuries, it has been regarded as a “breathtaking” art. The dragon has been used in Chinese art as a symbol throughout Chinese history. Dragons are sacred in Chinese culture; thus, depictions of dragons have always been quite popular among religious people. Chinese temples contain historical dragon paintings, sculptures, ornaments, and statues.
Traditionally, dragons were supposed to be a theme only in some religious paintings, but they were too striking an image for secular artists to not use them. As a result, dragons have appeared in jewelry pieces, been painted on delicate porcelain, and depicted in paintings and wall hangings for centuries.
Because dragons are used to symbolize influential people, dragons have always been used to signify royalty. As a result, dragon artwork is often found on imperial objects.
Chinese Dragon Painting
Dragons have been portrayed in various paintings from ancient times to the present. During the Song dynasty (about 960 – 1279), Chinese artists began to draw dragons and portrayed them as vivid creatures. During this period, artists like Dong Yu, Wang Xiandao, and Wu Huai from the Northern Song Dynasty and Chen Rong, Ai Shu, and Seng Fachang from the Southern Song Dynasty specialized in drawing dragons.
The Song Dynasty marked the transition in dragon painting history in China. During this period, Chinese scholars were concerned about the Chinese nation. Therefore, they began to use the dragon, which had been the symbol of the Chinese nation for centuries, as a vehicle to convey their emotions and ideas. They expressed their ideas and spiritual pursuit by using the well-known posture of a dragon in their paintings.
Since then, dragon artworks have been used by the royal court to express personal emotion and ethnic sentiment. Chen Rong (1200-1266) is considered the best dragon painter. He painted fascinating and mesmerizing dragon artworks.
Chen Rong – Best Dragon Painter of all Time
Chen Rong was a Chinese painter and politician of the Southern Song Dynasty and was famous for his depictions of dragons. His painting “Cloud Dragon” (sometimes called “Ink Dragon”) is a typical Chen Rong masterpiece. It depicts a flying dragon high in the clouds, giving people a sense of incredible power. Art scholars believe this painting represents the highest level of dragon paintings in the Southern Song Dynasty. It is one of the most outstanding dragon paintings of all time.
In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts is a handscroll “The Nine Dragons.” It has the date “1244” on it, and it is widely accepted that it is a work done by Chen Rong. It depicts nine dragons flying through mountains, clouds, or torrents with different postures.
The “Five Dragons” handscroll and the “Eleven Dragons” are also attributed to Chen Rong. The “Five Dragons” depicts the mythical creatures in different poses. In March 2017, Chen Ron’s “Six Dragons” handscroll was sold at Christie’s for almost $49 million.
Dragons in China Today
In ancient China, emperors were seen as sons of dragons and were the only people allowed to have dragon artworks. Ordinary people were not allowed to have any dragon artwork or items that carry the dragon images.
Nowadays, this mindset has changed. As a result, many dragon artworks, including paintings, can now be seen anywhere in China. Artists still use dragons in their paintings, and the dragon’s importance in Chinese artwork hasn’t changed. Artists still use them in ink and wash paintings, jade carving, porcelain, and posters.
Dragon painting is a traditional Chinese painting genre. It originated in ancient times when dragons were painted exclusively for emperors and used only for religious reasons. But it has developed into an art genre accessible to everyone.