Explore paintings, prints and papercuts depicting legendary figures from Chinese folklore.
Legends and stories have been represented in houses, temples and tombs for more than 2000 years in China. These images of beauties and heroes are not realistic portraits, but illustrate scenes of classic literature, frozen moments of theatrical plays, or snapshots of imaginary worlds in folklore. Many of these paintings serve a similar function to traditional Chinese performance art to teach history and moral standards. Some are closely connected to festivals, such as the New Year celebration, as a way to bring good fortune.
These paintings are designed to be read, not only as iconography but also literally, with the help of inscribed poetry, quotations from literature, or artists’ scholarly comments. The visual-textual tradition of representation also goes beyond China to other East Asian cultures, and remains one of the major differences from Western art.
Join us in celebrating the Chinese New Year with this online version of Beauties and Heroes for Eastern Art Online. Visitors can browse, search and explore the high-quality zoomable images of the paintings, prints and papercuts of legendary figures from Chinese folklore on display in the Ashmolean's Chinese Paintings Gallery.
Objects from past exhibitions may have now returned to our stores or a lender. Click into an individual object record to confirm whether or not an object is currently on display. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis, so please contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular Eastern Art object.