Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



China after the Han Dynasty



For more than 300 years after the fall of the Han dynasty, China was divided into rival kingdoms. Then the Tang dynasty ushered in a cultural blossoming in the seventh century. Following half a century of turmoil and division, the Song dynasty began to unify the country once again in 960, although it remained militarily weak. The Songs eventually had to make way for the Chins and withdraw to the south. Here too, however, a cultural golden age began that lasted until the conquest of the Mongols in 1279.


The Tang Dynasty

Several centuries of unrest were brought to an end by the Tang dynasty. Chinese culture and territorial expansion both reached high points.


Following the fall of the Han dynasty in the third century, numerous wars took place between three rival kingdoms. Nomads from out of the steppes north of the Great Wall repeatedly attacked, until they were eventually able to bring the north under their control; China then remained divided into north and south until the sixth century.

Numerous factions competed for control in the north until the 2 Wei dynasty was able to bring them under its control in 439.

During its brief reign, the Sui dynasty was able to restore the unity of China to a certain extent from 589 to 618, but was defeated in a war against the peoples of southern Manchuria and northern Korea.

The uprising led by the later ruler 1 Li Yuan, resulting primarily from domestic policies, prepared the way for the Tang dynasty from 618 to 907.

The Tangs stabilized China from their capital Ch'ang-an (present-day Xi'an) at the eastern end of the 3 Silk Road.

2 Armor-plated and saddled horse
from Wei dynasty, fifth-sixth cntury


1 Li Yuan, founder of the Tang
dynasty, drawing 19th century

3 The view of the citadel near Turfan,
built to protect the Silk Road


5 Civil servant,
statue, 7th-8th ń

The rulers were not afraid to allow broad tolerance in culture and religion, as the central government was solidly organized with well-trained 5 civil servants and efficient regulations and laws.

Chinese 6 literature and the arts experienced a golden age.

Trade relations by land and sea flourished, and conquests as well as international agreements secured the Tang dynasty's influence all the way into central and southern Asia. In the eighth century, however, China was forced to accept the expansion of the Tibetan Tu-fan kingdom, which conquered Tang territories.
Domestically, the Tang dynasty failed through its own success. The growth in population brought on by the booming economy destroyed the financial foundation of the state.

Emperor 4 Xuanzong, who tried to make reforms, was weakened by court intrigues that culminated in 755 in a revolt of the governor and general An Lushan.

A civil war began, ending eight years later at a cost of millions of lives. The weaknesses of the state led to internal repression.

Persecution of the 7 Buddhists, during which thousands of monasteries and temples were destroyed, began in 845.

Regional govenors began to function more independently, until Zhu Wen deposed the emperor, ushering in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period.

6 House of the poet Du Fu near Chengdu
in the province Sichuan

4 Emperor Xuanzong flees in 755 from the
revolt of An Lushan, painting, 8th ń

7 Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara,
the personification of compassion, marble, 8th ń


The Song Dynasty

The Song dynasty was able to stabilize the country until China was conquered by the Mongols.


A further revolt in 880 broke the power of the Tang dynasty over China.

The country fell apart into minor regimes from 907 to 960, while the Mongolian 12 Liao dynasty built up a strong empire in the north between 907 and 1125.

8 Chao K'uang, the first emperor of the Song dynasty, acceded to the Chinese throne in 960.

Over the next 20 years, the Songs captured vast areas of China and ruled the empire from their 10 capital Kaifeng.

12 Death mask from Liao dynasty
times, bronze, tenth-twelfth century

8 The first Song emperor, Chao K'uang

10 Boat traffic in Kaifeng, painting on silk, ca.1100

Like the Tangs, the Songs organized their  power centrally: department ministries controlled corresponding areas of responsibility and the military was placed under civilian officials. In 1004 the Song dynasty, after several uncessful wars, was forced to secure peace with the Liao through tribute payments and the cession of territories they had previously annexed in the north.

The country prospered culturally and economically in this period until a crisis began around 1050. The population grew faster than the state could assimilate it, and the tax revenues soon could not cover the state's expenditures, particularly for protecting the northern borders. During the reign of Shen Tsung (Chao Hsu) in the eleventh century, comprehensive reforms were carried out, including a land reform in favor of the farmers, who then paid taxes according to their income. The Songs, together with the Chin dynasty that ruled in Manchuria from 1115 to 1234, defeated the Liao, but they were then forced to the south by the Chins, and in 1126, also lost Kaifeng. This ended the empire of the Northern Song and began the era of the Southern Song, who resided in Hangzhou from 1135. There the Songs once again flourished.

Many technological innovations—including book printing with movable type, gunpowder, and 11 porcelain—were introduced. Academies trained landscape painters, Neo-Confucian-ism became the new state philosophy, and the philosopher Chu Hsi created the new Chinese language.

11 Three urns with figurative decoration,
ceramics, 12th-13th century

Like many other dynasties, the Songs were forced to give way to the 9 Mongols coming out of the northern steppes.
Genghis Khan had already conquered the Chin empire and its capital Beijing by 1215. in 1279, Kublai Khan also incorporated the Songs into the Mongolian world empire.

9 Mongols storming a Chinese fortress,
Indian miniature, 16th century




The Italian traveler Marco Polo visited the capital of the Southern Song dynasty in the 13th century.

The 12,000 bridges of the city, which is situated on a lagoon, reminded him of his hometown of Venice. Hangzhou, he said, was "the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world."

Death mask from Liao dynasty times, bronze, tenth-twelfth century

View of the lagoon city, French book painting, ca. 1412




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