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Mongol Zurag. Traditional national painting.




Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting

Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting. Painting is the major genre of the Mongolian fine arts that came into being in ancient times. The traditional Mongol zurag or painting style has been developed from the prehistoric rock paintings. This style of painting has long brush strokes which taper at the end. It also tends to feature bright colors.

Prehistoric artists, either carved silhouettes on rock, or painted figures in predominantly red pigments from mineral ore. Ancient petroglyphs created before recorded history, and later, various Shaman symbols and sacred place identifications, bring us the voices and visions of the ancestors. These works usually depict hunting trophies and domesticated livestock, and more rarely, people and even carts with wheels.

The oldest examples of rock painting in Mongolia are located at Khoit-Tsenkher Cave in Hovd Aimag. Painted in ochre on cave walls, these Stone Age paintings depict mammoths, sheep and ostriches. Later, cave paintings from the Bronze Age show animals, hunting scenes, carriages and various symbols.

Rock and cave paintings are, however, not the only important Mongolian early artwork. The earliest examples of monumental sculpture known, not only in Mongolia, but in Central Asia in general, are deer stones.

An example of very sophisticated workmanship and artistic abilities of early Mongolians are the ancient relics found in at the Hun tombs of "Noyon Uul" which date back to between 1AD and 3BC. Jewellery, pottery and other early artwork have been found here, but the most well regarded piece is a felt carpet which dates back around 2,000 years. The carpet shows a scene depicting beasts, fighting for survival. This genuinely artistic, expressive and at the same time ironic depiction of the beasts, fighting for survival can be considered not as merely decorative craft, also a wholesome work of fine art. The author's perfect knowledge of beasts' anatomy, characteristic behavioral traits and his command of hyperbola and expressiveness are obvious, and one could assume that the author intended to convey inter-tribal wars and victory of the Huns through these fighting animals. This magnificent creation of the Hun craftsmen testifies to the continuity of the Central Asian "stylized animal" art, preceded from the Bronze Age. The symmetrical composition, the rhythm, distinctive color combinations and the entire figurative reproduction give a vivid idea of artistic side of the imitative arts in this distant past.

The other major type of monument found in Mongolia dates to the Turkic Empire between the 6th and 8th century AD. As far as the burial rituals of the Turks are concerned, according to Suishu, the buried was placed in a wooden structure; its walls were depicted in episodes of his combat feat. Even though Mongolians have traditionally been a nomadic people, there is a long history of permanent settlements in Mongolia. The Uighur Empire, the most Buddhist of all states existed in the territory of Mongolia between the 8th and the 10th century AD, had a concrete influence on the artistic culture of the Mongolian nation. The Kidan Empire, which developed soon after the fall of the Uighurs, brought about a period of urbanization in Mongolia. A network of cities was developed along the trade route, and traces of Buddhist temples and frescoes have been found in the remains of these settlements. Its culture was distinctive, developed were portrait and landscape genres and wall-murals on historical subjects. Pieces of Buddhist temple ruins
were found under Uguudei Khaan's famous Palace "Thousand Tranquilities." Fragments of wall-murals were preserved on these pieces. Researchers have attributed them to a number of the Uighur and Central Asian painting schools of the 9th to 10th centuries AD.

Paintings from the Topkanu museum in Istanbul (Turkey) reproduced in a book "Mongolian Painting" give a realistic idea of ancient Mongolian painting. Some of them show the life of nomadic cattle breeders, tending horses and other domesticated animals, hunting scenes, including figures of various wild beasts in motion. Some other paintings depict zoomorphic creatures, strong and savage, dressed in human attire with bracelets around their wrists and ankles. These super-natural monsters are depicted as human beings, wrestling with each other, stealing horses, dancing and making music. The major personages and themes of Mongolian paintings of those times were giants from heroic epics, battle scenes, feasts and triumph of khans and noyons (feudal princes), and similarly popular were landscapes and animalistics.

The carefully weighed composition, harmony and movements of personages on these pictures are striking for their characteristics, being fundamentally distinguished from the local miniatures. The style of painting is, obviously, of realistic nature, the pictures are painted in relief whereas red, blue and brown colors prevailing.

Of a considerable interest are wall-murals of a temple discovered by Japanese archaeologists in 1932 near the Tsagaan Stupa in Inner Mongolia (China). The wall-murals depict the Eastern Mongolian mountainous landscape represented in four seasons with its animal and bird kingdom. By its painting style and form, the mural is essentially different from the Tang and Sung landscape. The entire landscape very much resembles works done in Mongol Zurag style of later period.

Thus, it would be impossible to create a complete and realistic picture of the ancient Mongolian painting without taking into consideration the distinctive culture of prehistoric and medieval states which existed in the territory of Mongolia at different times and left behind rich artistic heritage.
Mongolian art experienced a sort of renaissance beginning with the flowering of Buddhism in Mongolia during Zanabazar's time (1635 1723). For centuries after the adoption of Buddhism in Mongolia, Buddhist-related art was the predominate form of art created in this country.

Zanabazar was an outstanding figure of all-round learning and exceptional talent. He was a pioneering role model in fine arts. It was not by chance that he was the founder of the Mongolian school in Buddhist art.

By creating the images of tranquil Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, he strove to create the image of deified human being, the mind fully concentrated on the object of mediation and faultlessly proportionate in outward appearance. He left behind brilliant examples of artistically perfect creations, embodying all the 32 and 80 qualities of the divine beauty. These are his Vajradhara, Dhyani Buddha, Tara and others. The Vajradhara is the chief deity (Buddha), and this figure is represented with the hands crossed on the chest, one hand holding the vadjra symbol of the male principle and the other th bell-symbol of the female principle so expressing the indissoluble unity of male and female. The figure is upright with the legs crossed, head inclined slightly to the left. This is now the chief holy relic of the Gandantegchilin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar.
The pantheon of tantric deities, depicted by Mongolian iconographers, is exceptionally rich. The pantheon did not include realistic portraits of men but a collection of abstract, imaginary, "pedantic" images of Dharmas, meant for a visual understanding c the essence of religious tenets, and therefore, the artists had to confine to a strictly established canon in composition, positioning of figures and attributes without having the right even to slightly modify it. Nonetheless, the Mongolian school of iconography founded by G.Zanabazar, which regarded these canons as means to depict and convey human beauty, is unlike for its profoundly realistic portrayal of a human being.

Many of Zanabazar's works bear witness to his exceptional skill in depicting the female figure. An example is the White Tara, one the most significant holdings of Ulaanbaatar Fine Arts Museum. She is represented in the form of a beautiful young girl not yet come to full maturity, with plump childish fingers and bidding breast only just beginning to develop. The Green Tara, the largest of the 21 Taras is, undoubtedly, one of his greatest works. Unlike other Taras, depicting deities far removed from this world, this one looks like a lovely, round-faced young Mongolian girl.

Also, the portraits associated with his name, "Self-portrait" and "Mother's portrait" (Handjamts) are genuine master-pieces of the portrait genre. There is no doubt that such cast and painted depiction of actual people influenced the development of secular portrait painting as an independent form of art.
His works were the finest examples of the Mongolian art of those times. As the years go by, these works become brighter and more beautiful and acquire ever greater value.

With his Green and White Taras, illustrating the strength of talent and the magic force of artistic gift, he raised the Mongolian medieval religious art into the level of universal aesthetic standards. His works are considered to belong to the treasures of the world sculpture art. His masterpieces, such as Bodhisattva Vajratara registered into world heritage, represent a vivid example of international recognition of the Mongolian cultural legacy. He is, undoubtedly, "the grand master of Oriental fine art".

According to historical sources and chronicles, there were quite a few renowned artists in Mongolia by the late 18th and early 19th century. The paintings "Gombo" and "Shalsha" drawn by artist Baldangombo, and some of the depictions of geniuses hangals, authored by Tserendorj and Shirbazar are displayed at the Bogdo-Khaan museum in Ulaanbaatar. The Fine Arts Museum homes the "Jamsran" painted by Gendendamba who was the teacher of many Urga artists.

From this time until the shift to socialism in the early 1920s, much of the subject matter in Mongolian art was Buddhist. The work of artists, who were generally also monks, was used as objects of worship. The most common media in religious two-dimensional art were mineral pigments on cloth and applique (pieces of cloth stitched together and embroidered to form an image.) Appliquti was especially suited to Mongolian life, as it was easy to transport and held up well in the dry climate, as opposed to paintings, which might be damaged by the climate and the wear and tear of frequent rolling and unrolling.

With political and social changes beginning in the early 20th century, some artists began to move away from purely religious art and focused more on people and everyday life. B. Sharav, who was educated as a monk, was a painter who adjusted as his world changed and linked the old with the new in his art. The Mongolian way of life is depicted in his famous work "One Day in Mongolia," which combines traditional Buddhist art aesthetics with secular subject matter.

In 1924 B. Sharav painted a portrait of Lenin. This adaptability of Sharav's illustrates a huge shift in Mongolian art: works created during the period under socialism were dedicated to publicizing the new system. In the 1930s, Stalinist purges destroyed most monasteries and killed many monks in Mongolia. Also, in the early 20th century, a new aesthetic was introduced, as Mongolian artists were exposed to Western-style oil painting. In order to develop Mongolian art systematically, specialized artists were trained and specialized agencies were established in Mongolia. In the 1940s, the Mongolian government began sponsoring art students' travel and study in the Soviet Union. During this time, Socialist Realism and 19th century Impressionist styles dominated art produced by Mongolians.

In the 1950s many genres of fine art, carpet and porcelain production were introduced in Mongolia and developed. During this period many artists and architects became very famous for their thematic work, namely, painter O. Tsevegjav for animals, U.Yadamsuren for workers, N.Tsultem and G.Odon for history and everyday life and L.Gavaa for nature.

The 1960s and 70s saw two interesting trends in Mongolian art. Some Mongolian artists began to incorporate the older Mongolian aesthetic into their pieces, which remained socialist in tone. Thus, for example, one finds stylized flowers, clouds, and rivers surrounding the Mongolian seal and all the ethnic groups; or, an idyllic socialist scene very reminiscent of Sharav's "One Day in Mongolia." Also, the technique of applique resurfaced, especially in the mid-1960s.

A second trend during these decades and beyond was that Mongolians began to look outside the Soviet Union for influences to Eastern Europe. Their work began to show more individualism: artists began refusing to use realism, linear perspectives, and harmonization of colors, and explored other techniques of painting.
In 1990, Mongolia changed to a multi-party system and market-based economy. This meant both positive and negative influences on the art world. With the change in the economy, inflation and supply shortages caused widespread poverty, and the Socialist system's support of the arts collapsed. But it also meant the beginning of the revival of Buddhism, and freedom for artists to express themselves without restrictions on subject matter or style.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.

Photo. Mongol Zurag is the traditional national painting.



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