Gong Xian (1619-1689): Landscape. China, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), dat. 1684. 2nd sheet from album containing 8 sheets, ink on paper, 24 x 24.3 cm, (1988-404.2).

A Journey Lying Down
Chinese Landscapes

from: 09.03.2010 to: 12.09.2010

Museum für Asiatische Kunst

Landscape painting ranks as the most noble of all genres in Chinese painting. Those who sang its praises most of all were literary painters: members of the educated elite of officials who followed the Confucian school of thought. To them, the landscape appeared as the most suitable medium possible to give expression to the effects of the forces that formed the universe, as they perceived them. In keeping with the Chinese view of the world, humankind and nature are not opposing forces, but are subjected to the same laws and structures as each other. In accordance with this, humankind strives to be integrated in the best possible way into the organism of nature. Ancient Chinese philosophy sees a well ordered cosmos in the world, whose hierarchical structure is reflected in the landscape itself. In addition to this, certain primal religious concepts, held by the Chinese, viewed nature as enlivened by otherworldly forces.

And it is against this background that Chinese landscape painting's unique qualities have to be understood. Mountains and water traditionally form the basic elements, in the process embodying the opposing, and yet thereby complementary, forces that shape the universe. Man, generally depicted as minuscule, is integrated into the scene as an inherent component of nature. Even the viewer himself is invited to wander, in spirit, through the scene and trace the creative process undertaken by the artist in completing the painting and thus conceive of himself as a part of the universe.
In spite of the canon of stylised formal conventions that evolved over the centuries, Chinese landscape painting boasts an impressive diversity of forms. Alongside examples of literary painting, the exhibition also presents pictures by the so-called professional painters, who occasionally composed mythologising landscapes in a decorative and colourful style or produced especially commissioned works that depict real scenes.

Furthermore, there are many artists who defy classification in traditional Chinese art historical terms. The individualists in Yangzhou each evolved their own very personal forms of expression outside the precepts of tradition, while painters of the Nanjing School, for instance, incorporated Western influences into their pictures. The album sheets, horizontal and hanging scrolls seen on display here all date from between the 15th and 19th century.

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