Wall painting (壁画)

Wall paintings are paintings applied to the surface of walls and ceilings of buildings and caves.

The oldest existing painting is wall paintings drawn on the walls of caves (cave paintings) taking advantage of its concave-convex surface, and since humans started constructing buildings, paintings were being applied to their walls and became inseparable parts of the walls of living and divine space. Paintings began to be gradually drawn on wooden panels and cloth (tableau) existing separately and independently from the walls of caves and buildings. In fact, a number of ceiling and wall paintings are still produced, providing the effect that wall and ceiling paintings are enjoyable for many viewers at the same time and able to turn the whole space to the one likely to make the viewers feel surrounded by the atmosphere.

From Ancient Times to Medieval Times

Wall paintings have been dug up all over the world. Paintings drawn on the ceilings and cave walls during the Stone Age are the oldest existing ones. These cave wall paintings, produced using various kinds of colored soil pigments, taking advantage of the cave's concave-convex surfaces, seem to have played a certain role in ceremonies.

In the historical era, paintings began to be done on walls of tombs and buildings for decorative purposes. In Asia, Buddhist wall paintings were created in stone caves in India and Central Asia, which influenced Buddhist art in China, Korea, and Japan. Wall paintings in the first ancient tombs and temples in Japan seem to have something in common with those found in Koguryo in terms of method and technique.

In the West, wall paintings were discovered in the sites where houses were built in the ancient Egypt, Greek and Rome. Particularly in regions hit by the volcanic disasters and covered quickly with ash such as Santorini Island, Pompei and Herculaneum, well-preserved wall paintings were discovered in the debris of the buried buildings. The technique used to draw such wall paintings in the West was called 'fresco' and was applied in creating wall and ceiling paintings in churches, and so on, in later years, and still in the 21st century, are used for the production of wall paintings although regular-type and spray paints are now available. Michelangelo Buonarroti's product "Last Judgment" which is displayed in Sistina Chapel in Vatican is famous for applying that technique. Also, Leonardo da Vinci's product "The Last Supper" which is displayed on the wall of the dining room in Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a well-known wall painting in tempera style in this era, and deterioration in the painting accelerated due to environmental factors that it was placed in a dining room.

In Mesoamerica, the wall paintings in Bonampak ruins in the State of Chiapas (Late Classic period) and Cacaxtla Archaeological Ruins (Early Post Classic period) in the Central Plateau are well-known. Regarding the Cultures of the Andes, even in the pre-Inca period, there are colored reliefs produced on sun-dried brick (adobe) walls of shrines in the Lima Culture and Moche Culture and also, wall paintings colored directly with El Brujo and Panamarca in the shrines. Around the 10th century after the Moche Culture disappeared, the Sican Culture developed mainly in Batan Grande along the Jequetepeque River located north of the North Coast, and there are wall paintings in the Ventanas Shrine built at that time.

More ancient wall paintings have been discovered as methods or techniques available to unearth ruins and tombs have become advanced, but it is a future issue as to how to protect the delicate wall paintings not exposed to outside air or humidity for a long time, from deterioration caused by molds and light and how to present them for public view. Wall paintings in Lascaux Cave were damaged by carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors and mold carried in with visitors and the cave has been shut down, and it is a lucky case in whereby restoration begun before it almost ruined.

Modern Wall Paintings

In modern mass society, wall paintings were considered an important means by which people with less of an educational background were able to assert their own views or policies in a visual way. People painted wall paintings in industrial or war areas in order to deliver state opinion or message based on labor movements and nationalism or in hopes for a resolution of wars or conflicts. After 1910, in Mexico, people began to create many wall paintings aiming to establish their identities as Mexicans and deliver the purpose and significance of the Mexican Revolution. Artists who were supporting a famous historic movement, the Mexican wall painting Movement, were Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. In the United States, out-of-work artists who were employed under the Federal Art Project during the Great Depression era drew wall paintings on public buildings, and in communist countries, many wall paintings were created to deliver political slogans and for propaganda purposes.

In Northern Ireland, after the 1970s, politically-minded wall paintings were drawn on many buildings based on the ideology of the Unionist who were wishing their area to remain or become part of the United Kingdom and the ideology of the Nationalist who wanted their area to become independent from the United Kingdom, and some of these wall paintings caused controversy and co lignite a conflict, and were eventually redrawn.

While graffiti (doodling) which spread on a global scale in the 1980s and later considered damage to property without the owner's approval, it can be said that the graffiti demonstrates young people's views and interests, and gradually, a pictures drawn on an entire surface of a wall began to appear. Keith Haring is a graffiti artist who was recognized in art world and became well-known, and there are more graffiti painters in the world whose art works have begun to be exhibited at museums.

Meanwhile, local people including students in a certain areas, work together and attempt to produce wall paintings in order to prevent graffiti in public places and shops and also make the community network stronger.

Famous Ruins

Sigiriya (Sri Lanka)

Tassili n'Ajjer (Algeria)

Introduction of Cave Paintings

Lascaux Cave: Upper Paleolithic art; Montignac, France

Cueva de Altamira: Upper Paleolithic art; Cantabria Province, Spain

Chauvet Cave: Ardèche, France

Juxtlahuaca cave: Olmec Civilization; the State of Guerrero, Mexico

Introduction of Wall Paintings in Ancient Tombs and Stone Chambers

Japan (Decorated Ancient Tombs)

Ozuka Tomb: Around the mid 6th century; Keisen-machi, Fukuoka Prefecture

Takehara Tomb: The later 6th century; Wakamiya City, Fukuoka Prefecture

Chibuzan Tomb: The 6th century; Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture

Torazuka Tomb: The earlier 7th century; Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Kajiyama Tomb: The 7th century; Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture

Kitora Tomb: From the late 7th century to the early 8th century; Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture

Takamatsu Tomb: From the late 7th century to the early 8th century; Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture

Countries Other Than Japan

Anyue Tomb No.3: The mid 4th century; Anyue County, Beian Nam-do, North Korea

Deokheung-ri Tomb: The beginning 5th century; Nampho City, Beian Nam-do, North Korea

Nanchang Three Tombs: From the late 6th century to the early 7th century; Nampho City, Beian Nam-do, North Korea

Neungsanni Tombs: Puyo, South Korea

Japan: Asuka Period

Wakakusa-garan of Horyu-ji Temple: The early 7th century (unconvinced); Ikaruga-cho, Nara Prefecture

Ancient wall paintings in Kondo (main hall) of Horyu-ji Temple: the late 7th century; Ikaruga-cho, Nara Prefecture

The site of Yamada-ji Temple: The later 7th century; Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture

The site of Kondo Hall of Kamiyodo Hai-ji Temple (abolished temple): The later 7th century; Yonago City, Tottori Prefecture

The site of Hiokimae Hai-ji Temple: The later 7th century; Imazu-cho, Shiga Prefecture

The site of Sanno Hai-ji Temple: The later 7th century; Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

Japan: Nara Period

Hakkaku-do Hall of Eizan-ji Temple: Gojo City, Nara Prefecture

The site of Yamazakinoin Temple: The later 8th century; Oyamazaki-cho, Kyoto Prefecture

Japan: Heian Period

Kondo Hall of Muroo-ji Temple: Uda City, Nara Prefecture

Five-storey pagoda of Daigo-ji Temple: Fushimi-ku Ward, Kyoto City

Hoodo Hall of Byodoin Temple: Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture

Daido (Amidado Hall) of Fuki-dera Temple: Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture

Three-storey pagoda of Joruri-ji Temple: Kamo-cho, Kyoto Prefecture

Japan: Kamakura Period

Amidado Hall of Hokai-ji Temple: Fushimi-ku Ward, Kyoto Prefecture

Countries Other Than Japan

Mogao Cave: The later 4th century; Dunhuang City, China

Kizil Thousand Buddha Cave: Sinkiang Uigur Autonomous Region, China
Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves: Sinkiang Uigur Autonomous Region, China
Ajanta Cave: From the 5th to 6th century; India

The site of Mireuksa Temple: The early 7th century; South Korea

The site of Sopukusa Temple (Mt. Busosan Hai-ji Temple): The 7th century; South Korea