Layout in Chinese painting
Peintures anciennes

Etude de François Murez -

After studying the composition of the Bayeux Tapestry, it was interesting to watch what could be the long scrolls of Chinese paintings.
Look at first horizontal scrolls of times older than the Tapestry and the same time, and then vertical scrolls.
Let's see if this idea of squares, as used in the Tapestry, is found in these paintings.

Horizontal paintings.

Gu Kaizhi (c 345 - c 406):

Wise and benevolent women

Consider a square with its vertical division into halves and lock it on an architectural element.

Deploy the square on the whole surface of the scroll.

On expansion, we observe that we find the rythm of the square in the drawing, including the crew. The horizontal place some elements.

On the scroll, if the idea of the square is good, the design is not completely governed by this construction.

Gu Kaizhi (c 345 - c 406):

Nymph of the Luo River

Take the left side of the scroll ...

... and the right side.

On the right, draw a square of height equal to the width of the scroll and divide it into two vertical halves.. The written portion occupies half of the square thus defined.

Returning to the full scroll, it gives ...

Then, deploying this square on all the scroll, to the left is the end of the scroll on a vertical as well as the adjacent text in a half square.

Expanding again and drawing three horizontal dividing the height into quarters, we find these lines positioned on elements of design.
Like the previous scroll of Kaizhi Gu, drawing is still quite remote from the organization in squares.

Wu Daozi (680 - 740):

Eighty seven Celestials

Consider a square with vertical divisions into quarters. This square is not the height of the scroll but a reduced height without taking into account the structure of the bottom. The width of the square determines the position of the curtains.

Draw a horizontal line at the half of the square. All the heads are above this line.

Trace two horizontal lines in the quarters. Heads undulate in upper two quarters. The lower horizontal line is not involved in this composition.

The layout of the square indicates the decorative elements but does not set this sequence of characters.

Gu Hongzhong (c 937 - c 975):

Night revels of Han Xizai

Consider a square with vertical divisions. Place it on a screen defining a scene left. The screen is two quarters, another quarter indicates a character and the last quarter, Han Xizai.

Draw a horizontal line at the half of the square. Some elements are positioned on this horizontal line: the amount of the bed, the bottom of a frame, heads ...

Trace two horizontal lines positioned at different quarters.... This gives other architectures and dimentionne female characters.

Deploy all the squares on the scroll. Other architectural elements are positioned on the vertical of a quarter.

To better see just take one half of the scroll on the right.

It is clear that the screens that separate the scenes are on quarters.

Then look at the other half of the scroll, the right one.

Same way, the architectural elements are on verticals. The squares are rather used to place architectural elements as the characters.

This scroll consists of five scenes that go from right to left.
The first is 10 units ranging from curtain to screen. The Lord looks to the musician, his eyes gives movement.
The second is 9 units. The Lord looks at the dancers in the direction of movement.
The third scene is 5 units. The Lord is in the middle of the scroll and the movement of his eyes is in the other direction. The animation of the scroll is given.
The fourth is 10 units. The Lord listens to these ladies. The movement restarts in the direction of the scroll.
The last scene is also 10 units. The Lord receives his guests and turns his back to the end of the scroll. The movement is reversed.
Thus the symmetry is almost complete, but not completely. The Lord with his eyes animates the movement and sets the rythm of the scroll.
To complete, we can also draw diagonals that give depth by a vanishing angle. On scene right, the vanishing angle is high, it gives an upward movement.
On the other scenes, it is rather the opposite.
It was a perspective which gives depth to each scene and a look that gives the movement.

The colors also have a role. The red is very strong in the first scenes and fades in the last two in a pink barely marked. The Lord is sometimes dressed in light, sometimes dark, it also participates in the movement. In each scene, the women dressed very clear illuminate the scroll.

Wang Ximeng (1096 - 1119):

Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains

Consider a square with vertical divisions in quarters and three horizontal lines delimiting also quarters and deploy it on all the scroll.
Note that the field of light-colored on both sides of the scroll make a quarter of the basic square.

Take a portion of the scroll.

The application of the lines gives the following result.

Take another part.

With lines, this gives

The valleys are mainly in the lower quarter, the mountains in the second quarter and peaks in the third and the last quarter is reserved in heaven.

Gong Kai (1222 - 1307):

Zhong Kui Traveling

Consider a square with vertical divisions into quarters. Place it on the group of three people, a woman carried by two men on a chair. The three characters fit well in this square. Carriers occupy extreme quarters, the woman another one.

A horizontal line passing through the half of the square gives precisely one axis of the chair and positions an axis of the other seat, but also the heads.

A horizontal line which is placed in the upper quarter, delimits the top of the characters. Another horizontal line which is placed in the lower quarter, gives the position of feet, of chair and knees.

Now, if we multiply the square, groups of characters are placed.
It seems that the characters go through three. On the right, the lord and his two porters. Then two individuals with shield and sword and a little lower. Then another chair with three characters, then three, then three carriers painted black, then three more bleak and three rather clear.

Wu Zhen ( 1280 - 1354):


Draw a square having the height of the drawing and fixed on the side of the boat.

Then quarters to the right and the left.

A horizontal line on the middle of the square.

A diagonal line drawn from the horizontal, gives the orientation of the boat.
Another gives the axis of the tree trunk.

Two other secondary diagonal give the inclination of a branch and the limit of the canopy.

A parallel to the latter diagonal gives the axis of the paddle.

You can hide the two sides and leave the center square. We obtain a balanced result.

Conversely, if you hide the central square, you see that the nature barely sketched on the left corresponds to the writing on the right by the verticality of its design.

Shen Zhou (1427 - 1509):

Making farewells at Jingkou

Draw a square and its four vertical divisions. It places the foreground and trees.

The extension of the squares gives the end of the drawing on the left, this drawing has a length equal to three squares.

The horizontal give the banks.

The upper bank is within a triangle based on the grid.

It is the same with the lower bank.

The peaks of the triangles give two vanishing points that make the depth. An angle is closed, the other open.

You can almost divide the design into 3 parts ...

The two extremes balance. The trees on the right resume writings on the left. The central scene is a picture in itself.

The height of the writings is either two quarters or three quarters ... The tops of writings continue the horizon.
Writing is an integral part of this composition.

If the composition is not really clear in the earliest scrolls, it appears more clearly in the followings. Diagonals appear, also because the drawings are shorter and are confined in a frame. Early scrolls are long, frameless, it is rather horizontal lines which ordered the drawing.

Vertical paintings

Fan Kuan (990 - 1020):

Travellers among Mountains and Streams

Draw a square. The first quarter defines the foreground, the two quarters following the second plan.

Then a second. The design is so in two squares.

Another quarter defines the text box.

Hide with gray the text box and the foreground. The design remains balanced. The text is outside the drawing but it is still part because the surfaces are balanced.

Trace three verticals.

Diagonals create a upward movement.

Wu Zhen ( 1280 - 1354):

Stalks of Bamboo by a Rock

Draw a square a little wider than the scroll. Half of the square is the height of the rock and the whole square the height of the foliage.

A second square is the height of the drawing.

The vertical place the text and the rock.

Diagonal gives the tilted axis of a bamboo.

The three rods have the same vanishing point.

Some lengths are found in the drawing: height of stamps, of text, distance from the vanishing point ...
The length specified is also the golden section of the square ...

Cao Zhibai (1271 - 1355):

Clearing Snow on Mountain Peaks

Draw a square a little narrower than the scroll.

A second square delimits the mountain heights.

Draw the three verticals.

Three parallel diagonals give the upward movement.

Other diagonals in the other direction give the helical movement.

Dai Jin (1388 - 1462):

"Landscape in the Style of Yan Wengui

Draw a square slightly wider than the scroll. The first quarter defines the foreground, the second plan is half the third determines the height and the square gives the limit of the flank.

Trace back a square, and the mountain is bounded by two horizontal lines.
Writings are also positioned.

Consider the vertical line in the middle of the square.

Then two other vertical lines on the quarters.

Three diagonals based on these constructions give an upward movement.

Other diagonals complement the movement by creating an upward spiral.

The vertical scrolls are also built on squares and diagonals. The same construction can be found from one artist to another, from one era to another. Maybe you find it there the last two canons or rules of painting from Xie Ho:

Division and Planning, or placing and arrangement, corresponding to composition, space and depth.
Transmission by Copying, or the copying of models, not only from life but also the works of antiquity.

You liked this study, share it on your social networks !

Twitter Facebook