Reproductions of art from India, China and the Near East.
The history of Asia is rich and varied; it encompasses many important civilizations and, since it is such a vast continent it is difficult to make sweeping statements about the lives and fates of so many people living in such broad territories. Nevertheless, sculptures can be divided into those associated with religion (perhaps the most popular souvenir of a trip to Asia is a sitting Buddha) and objects used in daily life or connected in some way with writing or official affairs (clay tablets with texts, cylinder seals, etc.).
The first important artistic area is Central Asia and the “Greco-Buddhist” art that developed in this area between the incursions of Alexander the Great (4th century CE) and the ingress of Islam (7th century CE). This movement, which combined the Hellenistic sculptural style with local motifs, particularly of Buddhas, then expanded into a larger area of Asia.
China is also a great power, and its art displayed cultural maturity and technical excellence in, for instance, bronze vessels or the famous Terracotta Army, and sculptures made from nephrite jade are a particular specialty (4th - 14th centuries). Ceramics were very advanced in Japan before the adoption of Buddhism in the 6th century. Later, Japanese art received a new impulse and all larger artworks would depict Buddhist motifs. However, parallel to this trend there was also development in the lesser decorative arts.
In India the oldest finding is from as far back as 3 millennia BCE – bronze sculpture of a dancing girl; however, most of the rest of what has been discovered are ceramics and stone carvings, usually with motifs of animals or depictions of various deities. Religious pictures later predominate, though in some of the temple reliefs strongly erotic subjects are portrayed.
Historical findings in Southeast Asia include countless reliefs, rich ornaments and figural representations, such as those at the famous temple complex at Angkor Wat. Here, too, art is closely connected with Buddhism and Hinduism. The Near East and Mesopotamia are known for cylinder seals with engraved motifs that were usually impressed into wet clay. They were sometimes made from limestone, but sometimes precious gemstones were also used. These seals were used for official purposes, gifts, adornment and amulets. Here we also find the extraordinary Assyrian reliefs and also folk and religious statues of figures and engraved alabaster vases.
Islamic art is very specific – if only for its ban on depicting human and divine figures, which are substituted with richly, abstract ornamental designs (arabesques) and calligraphy. Representational animal and floral motifs were also popular.