Exhibition on line

Designs on Painted Pottery of Gansu

2013-10-23 15:30:47

The painted pottery of Gansu is the earliest dated painted pottery culture that reached the cultural zenith and lived the longest. The designs on the pottery are prehistoric people’s direct reflection of nature and they displayed their wishes, belief and worships with designs.  The makers, using their artistic wisdom, located the designs on conspicuous position of the pottery of daily use and by applying colors that gave strong impact to visual perception they    showed superbly power of expression of virtual with actual, black with red, simple with complicated and abstract with concrete. And they left behind with us a great number of brilliant artistic treasures.

Painted pottery of Dadiwan culture

Colors varied and mainly are brown


Most designs are crossed cord and slanting cord in heavy dark red with colored rings along the inside and outside of ware mouth. There are more than ten types of mysterious designs painted inside ware. They are considered by scholars as symbolic records with specific meaning, or just symmetric design with unidentified meanings.

Painted pottery of Yangshao Culture

Pottery mostly is red and designs mostly were painted in black. The color assortment of red and black creates strong visual effect. Design was usually painted around the middle part and only on the upper part of earlier wares but it extended to the lower part and few wares have design painted all over the body.  Inside designs appeared on late wares and dance designs painted around rim increased. With time progression design covered wider over ware and decorative function is increasingly notable.

Fish design is common for early Yangshao culture and it continued as long as a thousand years. It was often painted on the upper and middle parts of outside wall of ware in shape of round basin, though some bowls and jars bears the designs on bottom.  Fish design was well arranged in order and rather regular. There are usually two fishes painted on pottery, they are linked at head and tail with each other, head was arranged at right and tail left. Fish design developed from concrete to abstract and disappeared by the middle period of the Yangshao Culture. The painted pottery basin with fish design is representative feature of the Yangshao Culture and symbolizes the brilliant prehistoric culture of China.



Majiayao Culture can be divided into three types or periods progressed in succession. Its pottery surface was polished smooth and shining. The design was painted in black, red and white. Patterns often seen are spiral, shell, concentric circle, saw tooth, diamond check, four big circles and abstract celestial figure etc.  Their characteristics of the times are very obvious. These designs were related closely to the life and most of them reflect the worship of nature.

Spiral design begun in the late Yangshao Culture and became popular in periods of Majiayao and Banshan. There are usually four central points as centers of spirals, some has 6 or more. Design of spiral, spinning anticlockwise and painted with black and red sawteeth strips forms two sides continual patterns and increases effect of visual perception of spinning.  When the design is overlooked it looks like a big whirlpool with ware mouth as center. The spiral design with fluent lines inspires strong feeling of spinning and reflects the various-shaped backwashes and endless whirling of the Yellow River.

Design of Celestial figure, also Frog Design called by some scholar, begun on pottery of the Majiaoyao Culture, is the most distinctive of all the types of Banshan and Machang. Early image is fairly concrete, showing figure of whole or partial human body.  Design of Celestial figure of Banshan Type is abstract and by the late Banshan period it transformed. Head became big with no facial features but filled with patterns. Upper and lower limbs with ends stretching upwards have some claws. By the period of the Machang Type it became more abstract. The circle indicating head became bigger and some designs use the round mouth of ware as the circle and only limbs were painted on the upper part of the object. Lower limbs increased to three from two. the design of celestial figure of late Machang has no more head and changed to geometry pattern finally.

The most representative design of the Machang Type is Four Big Circles. The design was originated from the Spiral Design of Banshan Type. It consists of four circles mainly decorated on upper parts of big-sized wares. It was made by first painting four big circles in red, then painting four ring strips inside and outside the circles and filling the circles with various geometric patterns. This design was considered as origin of design on porcelain appeared later.