The Importance of Ritual in Chinese Art

Archaic to Present Ritual Bronze Forms

In China, rituals were an important aspect of formal and informal life. Many of the most striking examples of the importance of ritual in Chinese art are found in objects. Such as jade forms included as part of a burial ceremony during the Shang and earlier periods and ancient bronze cooking and wine vessels.

Chinese Archaic Gu Form Bronze, Shang Dynasty, Ancient chinese art for sale,

Chinese Archaic Gu Form Bronze, Shang Dynasty, Sold for $18,125.00

Many of these designs were used in later periods in China to create works of art that hinted at their ancient, ritual origins but were most often decorative and devoid of any ritual significance. One of these Chinese ritual wine vessels was the gu, a trumpet-shaped form that incorporated stylized animals and bands of angular decorative elements.

Chinese Cloisonne Gu form vase, 18th century, gilt bronze, 1700's asian art, Chinese art for sale, history of cloisonne

Chinese Cloisonne Gu-Form Vase, 18th Century, sold for $114,186.00

Later versions of the gu, such as this 18th century cloisonne example were made for someone who understood the ancient bronze source, but appreciated the complexity and beauty of the brightly colored interpretation in cloisonne.

Vintage Chinese Vase, Sterling silver, silver, Asian silver, Cloisonne, 20th century, antique

Chinese Enamel and Silver Gu Form Vase, 20th century, sold for $3,507.50

Modern interpretations, such as this silver example, hint at the earlier importance of ritual in the use of a precious metal.  Celebrating an archaic Chinese ritual form in a luxurious way.  

Ritual Paintings

Land Water Ritual, chinese painting, buddhist art, buddhistic ritual painting, land and water ritual

Chinese Qing Imperial Buddhist Water & Land Ritual Painting, 17th/18th century, sold for $246,875.00

This Chinese Buddhist “water and land deliverance” ritual painting shows the cycle of redemption and rebirth of death and reincarnation. In this example, a female deity with attendants stands among pastel clouds in an etherial heavenly landscape. The viewer is taken from the temporal to the eternal, and in contemplation would be transported beyond the many challenges of daily life in a reflection upon eternity.  With a miniature mountain representing the earth below.

Miniature mountain, jade mountain, awesome chinese art, beautiful antiques, gold, gilt bronze, silver

Chinese Zitan, Hardstone, Gilt-Bronze, Silver, Other Materials Miniature Mountain 19th century, sold for $258,000.00

Ancestral portraiture is an important part of Chinese funerary traditions. Individuals commissioned their ancestors portraits, worshipped and cared for these objects for both self serving, and pious purposes.  The belief is that one’s ancestors still influence your life. Though no longer living, their worship will bring longevity, financial success, and other benefits.  Below is one such ancestral painting.  These objects have both cultural and historic importance. Through them we see what silks, rugs, furniture, and jewelry were considered important.

Chinese Ancient art, qing dynasty, ritual art, ancestral portrait

Chinese Imperial Ancestor Portrait, Color Inks on Silk, 19th Century, sold for $90,000

Ritual is important to all cultures, but particularly so to China. Ritual objects and paintings enabled the participant to more fully comprehend the significance of the ideas being communicated, in the past and in the present.  And they give us a window into an ancient world with different ideals, and a unique culture.

For more information on Ancestral Portraits:


For more information on Bronze Censers and Mythical Animals: