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Shawn Eichman. Out of Chaos: The Six Dynasties’ Influence on Later Art

The exhibition ‘Art in a Time of Chaos: Masterworks from Six Dynasties China, 3rd–6th Centuries’, which marks the 50th anniversary of China Institute in New York, presents a rare opportunity to highlight one of the most critical, and yet most poorly understood, periods in world history. Similar to the Dark Ages in Europe, the Six Dynasties period (222–589) was regarded by later historians in China as a black spot in the otherwise impressive continuity of Chinese civilization, an embarrassment whose significance lay primarily in providing a negative example of what not to do. However, the Six Dynasties also saw the birth of calligraphy and painting as consciously recognized art forms, the first mass production of high-fired celadon-glazed ceramics and an unprecedented flourishing of sculpture (not to mention the new heights attained in literature during this time). For centuries afterwards, poets and artists turned to idealized interpretations of the Six Dynasties period for their inspiration, and it can be said that in many ways, this was when Chinese (and East Asian) culture as we know it today first took shape.

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