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发布时间:2022-11-16 09:47:34 | 来源:中国网 | 作者: | 责任编辑:

Brilliant Heritage of Old Beijing | Clay Figurine Zhang: A Painted Sculpture Combining Form and Spirit

以泥雕形 以手塑意 形意抵心





A clay handicraft made by heart

Clay Figurine Zhang

is a kind of traditional painted sculpture

that incorporates techniques of modern significance

It is a key cultural heritage worth carrying forward by today’s people

《惜春作画》张景祜, Jia Xichun in Painting by Zhang Jinghu)


What is Clay Figurine Zhang


Clay sculpture, popularly known as painted sculpture, is a traditional folk handicraft in China, which features various types of figurines made of clay. In the course of development, many genres have been formed in different regions, of which the most famous include Tianjin’s Clay Figurine Zhang. A genre of folk art emerged in the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it has been inscribed on the list of national intangible cultural heritage in China. 

《蒋门神》张明山Jiang Menshen by Zhang Mingshan


In the 1950s, Zhang Jinghu, the third-generation inheritor of Clay Figurine Zhang, brought this folk handicraft to Beijing and cultivated a number of sculptors. From that point on, Clay Figurine Zhang turned from a handicraft passed down in a family into one inherited in society. It has since become an iconic genre of clay sculpture with cultural profundity handed down from generation to generation. 


Painted clay sculpture works combining form and spirit

上:《少数民族系列(白族)·育新苗》张錩 下:《西湖主》张錩

Above: Ethnic Minorities Series (Bai)—Cultivating Seedlings by Zhang Chang Below: Master of West Lake by Zhang Chang




Clay Figurine Zhang boasts diverse subjects. In the early stage, it mainly drew inspirations from folk tales, traditional operas, and classical novels, forming an elegant, sedate and classical artistic style. 

(《月下对诗》张景祜 Composing Poems Together in the Moonlight by Zhang Jinghu)



The first-generation craftsmen of Clay Figurine Zhang tended to create clay animals and figures from classical works. Back then, clay figurines based on real persons were usually presented as private gifts, rather than as decorative craftworks. 

The Beijing branch of Clay Figurine Zhang pursues“creating clay handicrafts by heart” and advocates incorporating the spirit of the times and personal art concepts into traditional subjects. 

Laws of Coloring 



The color usage of Clay Figurine Zhang is deeply influenced by traditional Chinese coloring culture. A color symbolizing good luck, festiveness, and blessing, red is often used in Clay Figurine Zhang works. This indicates people’s preference for traditional colors and their pursuit of happiness and auspiciousness.

《黛玉》张景祜 Lin Daiyu by Zhang Jinghu


Besides, Clay Figurine Zhang likes to choose solemn, simple colors such as grey-blue, white and black, demonstrating a coloring style of northern China. Moreover, Clay Figurine Zhang works excel at displaying the temperaments of different figures through the use of contrasting colors. They adopt color combinations according to the identity and character of the figure, and the contrasts of colors differ based on the different identities of figures. 

Principles of Shaping 



Clay Figurine Zhang emphasizes realism. The figurines are all lifelike. However, this lifelikeness is a kind of artistic reality rather than living reality. It contains the craftsman’s art experiences and rich imaginations. 

《算卦》张华堂 Fortuneteller by Zhang Huatang


Clay Figurine Zhang works are mostly used for indoor decoration. Each is 10 to 40 centimeters tall. The craftsmen use the plasticity of clay to shape molds and then color them, thus creating lifelike figurines. 


Making Techniques of the Beijing School of Clay Figurine Zhang 


Initially, the Beijing school of Clay Figurine Zhang used clay from Hongni Valley in Changping District. This kind of reddish clay boasts great viscidity and plasticity. Moreover, the clay could be used as lubricant. However, due to excessive exploitation, this kind of clay has been used up. Nowadays, a kind of yellow clay powder from Beijing’s Mentougou District is used as a substitute. All you need is to mix it with an appropriate amount of water. 

泥人张原料黏土 The clay material used by Clay Figurine Zhang


To increase the clay’s viscidity, people would add certain amounts of cotton by the ratio of 5:1. That means each five units of clay is mixed with a unit of cotton. Then, people repeatedly pound the mixed materials with a wooden hammer until the cotton is completely integrated into the clay and cannot be identified in surface. It is better if even cotton fabrics can be seen if separating a piece of clay into two halves. At last, people wrap the finished clay with oiled cloth and store it in a cellar, which can be used for sculpting clay figurines anytime. 


Inheritance and Development of Clay Figurine Zhang



The painted sculpture of Clay Figurine Zhang originated in the late period of agricultural society. Therefore, it essentially reflects the ways of production and life of farming society.

Due to varying characteristics of different historical periods, the works of each generation of Clay Figurine Zhang craftsmen show unique features. For instance, the works of Zhang Mingshan, the first-generation Clay Figurine Zhang craftsman, show a richer scholarly style, while those of subsequent generations fuse modern business modes and clay sculpture art. 

泥人张当代彩塑作品 Contemporary works of Clay Figurine Zhang)

《丝绸之路》局部张錩 Part of The Silk Road by Zhang Chang)


Throughout the century-old history of Clay Figurine Zhang, the development and prosperity of the Beijing school of this handicraft embody an achievement in the exploration of traditional art in contemporary cultural context. In modern times, this time-honored traditional handicraft evolves into a new form of art by inheriting its original form and carrying forward its original spirit, which has been proven a great success. 



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