Yan Liben’s “Bunian Tu” 阎立本《步辇图》

Author: Yan Liben
Size:38.5cm×129.6 cm
Material: ink and color on paper
Dynasty: Tang dynasty (Collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing)
“Bunian Tu” (also called Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan Envoy) is one of the top ten traditional Chinese paintings. It features elegant and bright colors, smooth and vigorous lines, and a flexible composition. The painting is a representative piece of paintings from the Tang dynasty, and possesses both historical and artistic value.
“Bunian Tu” tells the story of how the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo married Princess Wencheng. On the right side of the painting, Emperor Tang Taizong sits on a sedan surrounded by maids holding fans and canopies. He looks handsome, composed and peaceful, fully displaying the majesty and dignity of an enlightened emperor. On the left, the first person is the official in the royal court, the one in the middle is the envoy and the last one is an interpreter.
The painter demonstrated accomplished painting skills in the painting. The ink outlines of garments are both smooth and vigorous. The behavior and expression of the main characters are vivid. Shading is used in some parts of the painting, such as the wrinkles of boots, which give the painting a strong three dimensional effect. The painting’s color scheme is bright, generous and splendid, featuring large area of red and green, which presents a sense of rhythm and impressive visual effects.
A Brief Introduction of Yan Liben
Yan Liben (c. 601-673), was the son of Sui dynasty painter Yan Pi, and the younger brother of Yan Lide. He served as Vice Minister of Justice during the reign of Emperor Taizong, and later as the Minister of Public Works, and then You Chengxiang—a post considered one for a chancellor.
His calligraphy and painting works cover a wide range of topics and themes, such as religious figures, vehicles and horses, landscapes, and so on. He was good at painting figures. based on the historical event of the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo and Princess Wencheng of Tang Dynasty joining in marriage, “Bunian Tu” depicts Emperor Taizong receiving a Tibetan envoy called Lu Dongzan who came to escort Princess Wencheng to Tibet in the 15th year (641) of the Zhenguan reign.

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