Stunning murals discovered in small Tang-era tomb depict eighth-century everyday life

Asia World

The mural covers every side of the tomb except for the floor and features a white background over which are painted depictions of daily life.

The artwork is styled like other Tang-era pieces, featuring strong outlines with simple shading and most of the scene appearing two-dimensional.

The mural is part of an artistic style called “figure under the tree” that, as the name implies, depicts people performing various activities below a beautifully depicted tree.

The murals on all sides of the tomb, excluding the floor, showcase scenes of daily life during the Tang dynasty (618-907) against a white background, highlighting the cultural richness of that era. Photo: Xinhua

“Figure under the tree” murals were trendy in Taiyuan, the capital of north China’s Shanxi province, during this moment in history.

Other parts of the tomb that were covered in art were the gates, the corridor and the tomb pedestal. The gates were also flanked by figures on the outside that were meant to be guardians of the tomb.

Long Zhen, the director of the Jinyang Ancient City Archaeological Institute, said the artistic style is similar to the paintings in the tomb of Wang Shenzi, who founded the dynastic state of Min (909-945), one of the regions during the Ten Kingdoms period (907-960), which is defined by the fall of the Tang dynasty and the rise of the Song dynasty.

Long hypothesised that the same artist may have painted both Wang’s tomb and the newly discovered mural.

The murals do not depict significant moments in history or images of important people.

One scene depicts people performing various work tasks, such as grinding grain, making dough, or fetching water from a well.

Another features a woman dressed in a colourful gown leading four horses alongside a man holding a whip. Interestingly, the archaeologists told Xinhua that the man is believed to be from a non-Han ethnic group.

The figures depicted throughout the mural look like the same two people, prompting archaeologists to speculate that they were the owners of the tomb.

The figures depicted throughout the mural look like the same two people, prompting archaeologists to speculate that they were the owners of the tomb. Photo: Xinhua

Long told Xinhua that the tomb was found on a mountainside to the west of Taiyuan in an important Tang-era burial ground.

Murals are not a unique part of Chinese history, and possibly the most famous ancient murals were discovered in the Mogao Grottoes outside of the desert city of Dunhuang in Gansu province in northwestern China.

As one of the few hubs of civilisation along the Silk Road on the edge of the Gobi Desert, the city of Dunhuang was once an essential stop along the Silk Road, and the Mogao Grottoes became a regional headquarters for Buddhist prayer.

Inside the grottoes are a series of beautiful murals that, if they were lined side-by-side, would be 25 kilometres long.

The first mural was painted by a monk named Lezun, and the vast majority of the images depict stories from Buddhist scripture.