Landscape Painting

Uta Lauer

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Landscape Painting

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  • East Asian Studies
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In the early beginnings of renditions of landscape in painting, natural settings served only as background. Landscape has always been associated with animistic, shamanistic, and other religious belief systems. The Chinese term for landscape is shan shui 山水 (mountain and water). The Five Sacred Mountains, Taishan in the east, Huashan in the west, Hengshan (Hunan Province) in the south, Hengshan (Shanxi Province) in the north, Songshan in the center, and the four sacred rivers, Yangzi, Yellow River, Huai, and Ji River, were revered. Mountains were considered an axis mundi connecting heaven, earth, and the underworld. The Queen Mother of the West was believed to reside in the Kunlun Mountains. Mythological texts, such as the Shanhai jing, describe the geography of China interspersed with mythical landscapes inhabited by gods and goddesses. According to Daoist belief, caves and grottoes are passages that lead to a paradisiacal world. Immortals inhabited isles in the Eastern Sea. During the Han dynasty, a numerological system of correlations developed, connecting yin and yang to the four seasons and the five basic energies of wood, earth, metal, water, and fire. Landscape poetry flourished during the Jin dynasty. The earliest treatise on landscape painting, Gu Kaizhi’s Record of How to Paint Mount Yutai, coincides with the rise of nature poetry. Until the Tang dynasty, when a few landscape painters, such as Li Sixun, made their appearance, figure painting was the dominant genre. Landscape served as background or had a cosmic content, as in tomb murals, relating to the four cardinal directions—east-spring, south-summer, west-autumn, and north-winter—and thus to the passage of time. During the Northern Song dynasty, monumental landscape painting, predominantly executed in monochrome ink, emerged, succeeding the earlier Tang dynasty blue and green landscapes. From the Song dynasty onward, landscape painting was not only a genre in its own right but also the most highly regarded and appreciated genre. The literati scholar-painters in general preferred landscape to other genres. Painting became part of the imperial exams to become an official. In the 11th century the painter Guo Xi wrote a treatise on landscape painting, The Lofty Truth of Forests and Streams (Linquan gaozi), listing three kinds of perspective: high, deep, and level distance. Since the Tang dynasty, a certain pictorial vocabulary, a stock repertoire, and a set of painting conventions had developed that over centuries comprised the prime reference system. Over time, this set of conventions was modified, subtly transformed, and infused with additional, new meaning but never altogether discarded.

Article.  6251 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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