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Riders on Horseback: A Wall Painting in the Tomb of Lou Rui

Aug 22, 2010


Name: Riders on Horseback – Wall Painting | 中文名: 娄睿墓《鞍马出行图》壁画
Dated to: 550-577A.D. | Culture: Northern Qi Dynasty
Unearthed: 1979@Taiyuan, Shanxi | Current location: Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology
Dimension: 160cm x 450cm

“Riders on Horseback” is a wall painting in the Tomb of Lou Rui from the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577A.D).

Tomb owner Lou Rui, nephew of Empress Wuming of Northern Qi Dynasty, had been on important official positions such as Great General, Da Sima, Da Shi, etc. He was a major figure in the Northern Qi regime.

Ramp corridor and burial chamber of the tomb were all painted, covering 200+ square meters with 71 paintings. With their bold lines, harmonic color, dynamic and vivid formation, careful and precise composition, these paintings have been recognized as excellent representative artworks of Chinese paintings in Southern and Northern Dynasties period.


The murals are divided into two parts:

On the walls of ramp, the lower section of walls of courtyard, corridor, and main chamber, the paintings illustrate Lou Rui’s military career and life scenes before his death;

On the upper walls of corridor, courtyard, chambers and gates, those paintings depict the illusory fantasy in which the tomb owner ascended to heaven and returned to the Western Pure Land after death.

The whole set of murals integrates human life and supernatural legends into one great magnificent picture.

These murals used traditional scroll type composition, divided into several short sections: people riding in the front, followed by group portraits, and sections are related to each other.

As to techniques, they were outlines using iron wires, so people, horses look delicate and realistic. They inherited the technique guidance “To use shape to express spirit” used for figure painting since famous painter Gu Kaizhi, and followed the rough style of Han Dynasty murals , In the meantime, the use of color washes, light and dark against the background, and distance contrast, makes the image more three dimensional and realistic .


These murals treasures indicate that artists in Southern and Northern Dynasties Period, like Gu Kaizhi, Zhang Senyou, Lu Tanwei of Southern Dynasties, and Yang Zi-hua, Cao Zhongda of Northern Dynasties, had already attained a considerable height in creative art, which laid the foundation of Chinese traditional painting.

For this reason, some researchers think these paintings in Lou Rui’s tomb were Painting Saga Yang Zi-hua’s work. His horse paintings were so good that “you can hear the horses neighing for water and grass at night”.

[Forbidden Treasure of China Series]
This is the 23rd of 64 culture heritages that the government of China forbids to exhibit abroad. The complete list is here. In Chinese.

[Chinese Keywords]
国家一级文物 禁止出境

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