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Sheepskin paintings celebrate art inheritance, innovation

Updated: 2021-04-06


Ji Ying, a member of the Ji family, paints traditional Mongolian costumes on a piece of sheepskin. [Photo/baotounews.com.cn]

The renowned sheepskin painting of the Ji clan in Baotou – in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region – is an ancient art form, with a history that can be traced back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

It was faithfully inherited and passed on, being further developed by the Ji clan during the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor (1861-1875). Nowadays, it is the only extant school of sheepskin painting in the country that has successfully been passed down through the centuries.

Innovative sheepskin paper for calligraphy and painting developed by the Ji family in 2017 even became the first leather calligraphy and painting paper to be made available anywhere in the world. 


Ji Ying passes on her sheepskin painting skills to an apprentice. [Photo/baotounews.com.cn]

According to Ji Ying, fifth generation inheritor of the art of making Ji clan sheepskin paintings, the key to the technique is careful selection of sheepskin pelts that are free of insect bites and scars.

Sheepskin made from 16 traditional and ancient methods – such as soaking, light tanning, adding anti-insect and moth-proofing Chinese medicine preparations, shaping and finishing – is used as the base for the craft. 


The woman in the work The Ordos Bride is dressed in a bright and breezy traditional costume. The dazzling jewels on her head showcase the aesthetics of sheepskin painting. [Photo/baotounews.com.cn]

Ji painting uses high-quality sheepskin and paint made from natural minerals to depict people, flowers, birds and an endless variety of patterns. Influenced by the grasslands and its people's nomadic culture, the uniquely Inner Mongolian painting method is well known for giving detailed depictions of ancient emperors, costumes and customs.

The Ji clan's style of sheepskin painting was officially listed as part of the cultural heritage of Inner Mongolia autonomous region in 2011.

In 2014, the Inner Mongolia Ji clan's Sheepskin Painting Art Research Institute was established and as a result, sheepskin painting is moving towards commercialization in tandem with its inheritance and protection as a cultural icon. 


A veritable rainbow on a table: a selection of special paints used in sheepskin painting [Photo/Inner Mongolia Daily]