UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

An examination of the t-shaped painting from the western Han tomb no. 1 at Ma-Wang-Tui, Ch'ang-Sha, Hunan Kelley, Clarence William


The excavation in 1972 of Tomb No. 1 at Ma-wang-tui, Ch'ang-sha, Hunan, which may be dated to the second century B.C. of the Western Han Period, yielded a plethora of materials for the study of early Chinese culture and art. Prominent among the treasures recovered was a T-shaped painting on silk, the focus of this thesis. It is significantly large (205 cm. long, being 92 cm. wide at the top and 47.7 cm. wide at the bottom) and has survived its more than two thousand year burial in a. remarkably intact state of preservation. At the time of its discovery, the painting was found placed directly over the shrouded corpse of the deceased, the Marchioness of T'ai. This position of primacy among the tomb's furnishings suggests that it had a similar importance for the deceased during her lifetime. In general, two contrasting artistic attitudes, that between symbolism and pictorialism, can be distinguished in the history of Chinese art. Within the Ma-wang-tui painting, there are variations of imagery representing the earlier symbolic attitude and also evidence of a nascent pictorialism. Thus, in incorporating both attitudes, the Ma-wang-tui painting may denote the shift in artistic emphasis that emerged with the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. - A.D. 220). In the course of our examination, many factors beyond the scope of the thesis had to be acknowledged. Concern for such, matters as the mythological identity of the figures, the sources of the mythology, principles of decorative patterns, and the T-shape of the painting were pursued only insofar as they aided and complemented, a primary focus upon understanding the Ma-wang-tui painting in an art historical context. The Introduction discusses the literature which has already been published regarding the Ma-wang-tui painting. While several interpretations of the painting have been offered, and while in their broad outline some of these theories are accepted, it is to the particular details and interpretative nuances that objections have been raised. Moreover, no scholar has satisfactorily positioned the Ma-wang-tui painting within the specific context of Chinese art history as has been attempted here. Chapter One provides a general description of the painting. It establishes the identities of those figures and images that can be accepted without serious question. Chapters Two, Three and Four deal with the more contentious and controversial identities of the figures and their iconology. These chapters examine the various themes presented - within the Ma-wang-tui painting as particularly, relevant to the Taoist universe, the yin and the yang, the wu hsing, shamanism and the recalling of the soul. Finally, Chapter Five, examines the contrasts between an earlier artistic attitude which was concerned for the symbolic and that of a later time which was concerned for the pictorial. This transition from the former to the latter is of fundamental importance in understanding the whole history of Chinese art. It was found that the T-shaped painting from Ma-wang-tui represents a seminal acknowledgement of this shift in artistic attitudes.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.

Usage Statistics