chapter  8
24 Pages

The presence (and absence) of landscape in silent east asian films: Peter Rist

To note that the tradition of landscape painting in China is “ancient” is a huge understatement. Although not as old as figure painting and although only copies, and no originals, survive from the period, landscape painting became highly developed at the end of the seventh century and the beginning of the eighth, during the T’ang dynasty, especially in the “green and blue” work of Li Ssu-hsü and his son, Li Chao-tao.1 Paintings by masters of both Southern and Northern schools have survived from the eleventh century, including Kuo Hsi’s (Guo Xi) Early Spring (1072), the complexity of which is found in the “curving lines of mountains, trees, and rocks” as well as the atmospheric “naturalism” and “life” created by “using blank areas of silk to suggest the penetrating clouds and mists.”2 Other surviving masterpieces of the Northern Sung dynasty period housed at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum include Kuan T’ung’s Awaiting a Crossing (c. 900), Fan K’uan’s Travelling Among Mountains and Streams (c. 1000), and Soughing Wind Among Mountain Pines painted by a follower of Kuo Hsi’s, Li T’ang in 1124. All are dominated by the verticality of a craggy mountain peak, coursed by streams, dissected by mist and clouds, and dotted with trees; and, if

human or other figures are present, they are rendered minuscule in the vast natural environment.3 All these works are hanging scrolls, a format which encourages a vertical scanning of the image, from land and water to sky, or vice versa. There is no single focal point or eye level in these paintings and the remoteness and eternality of the “master mountains,” coupled with “an overpowering sense of scale when they are related to human beings” can be considered as being “Taoist.”4