The Origins of Chinese Mountain Painting: Evidence from Archaeology


in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 117

Published by British Academy

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780197262795
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191753954 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

The Origins of Chinese Mountain Painting: Evidence from Archaeology

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Mountainous landscapes, with massive crags and narrow fissures between rocks, through which water spouts, are among the principal subjects of paintings in China. This chapter addresses the question, why, in the first place, were these subjects chosen? It focuses on developments made during the Qin (221–207 bc) and Han (206 bcad 220) dynasties, from the third century bc onwards. It explores the ways in which the conditions prevailing in the Qin and Han periods moulded some aspects of the later Chinese practice. It is argued that the ways in which the Chinese from the Han period onwards viewed the cosmos determined their choice of mountains as a major subject for painted images. The chapter discusses attitudes to the cosmos and the aesthetic consequences of these views. It considers the whole range of ideas about the universe and not simply with depictions or models of mountains as representing one part of the cosmos.

Keywords: mountains; paintings; Han dinasty; archaeology; cosmos; universe; Qin dynasty; China

Chapter.  15350 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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