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A Comparative Study between Kizil Cave Paintings in Xinjiang and the Byzantine Murals at Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome
Yu Gan, Ph.D.
China Academy of Art
Guest Professor, Shanghai Institute of Visual Art
This paper is intended to be a comparative study of the Kizil Cave Paintings and the contemporaneous early Byzantine murals inside the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome. Both of these murals were fundamentally influenced by the Hellenistic tradition. The paper forms an evaluation from an aesthetic and technical standpoint of a number of pieces representing “the most exuberant period” of Kizil paintings, as well as “the first golden age” of Byzantine art. Similarities and differences in various techniques and materials will be explored, such as variations in materials used in the plaster, composition of ingredients used in pigments, processes used in painting, configuration of subjects, approaches to brush strokes, etc. Such a comparison uncovers the similarities and differences in aesthetical ideals and technical standards embodied in Eastern and Western mural paintings, revealing the relationship between the developmental paths of early medieval Western and Eastern mural art.
These differences and similarities allow for a comprehensive evaluation of respective painting techniques and procedures, from which the following conclusions will be established: (1) The mutual exchange of artistic ideals between civilizations is a timeless principle that has been governing interaction between cultures from time immemorial until the present, transcending historical periods, cultural spheres and geographic locations. As human civilization progresses, this principle inescapably repeats itself under various manifestations, of which the Kizil Cave Paintings and the Byzantine murals of Santa Maria Antiqua are but one instance. (2) The artistic techniques employed and the aesthetic standards applied in the Kizil Cave Paintings during the early medieval period rivals those found in contemporary European murals, thereby elaborating on the assertion made by professor Mario Bussagli in his book, “Central Asian Paintings” that “The Kucha Paintings are really one of the high points of all Central Asian art.” In fact, Kucha artistry is not only one of the high points of Central Asian mural art, but also one of the highest points of world mural art during the early medieval period.