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3 Tutorials that teach Song Dynasty Landscape Painting
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Song Dynasty Landscape Painting

Song Dynasty Landscape Painting

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will analyze the unique traits of Chinese landscape painting.

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Tutorial

An overview of Song Dynasty landscape painting.

Video Transcription

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So I'd like to welcome you to this episode of "Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. Today's lesson is about Song Dynasty landscape painting.

As you watch the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. As soon as you ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things we are going to learn today, are listed below. in our lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the basic traits of landscape painting, including shifting perspective, and identify examples of Buddhist art and architecture from China.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow.

First term is Neo-Confucianism. The moral and ethical Chinese philosophy that revived Confucianism, but added influences from Taoism and Buddhism and emphasized the importance of nature and sense of spiritual connection with nature.

Li, or idea, is the underlying reason and order of nature as seen in its living forms.

Ji, or spirit, is the life energy or life force.

Shifting perspective. A characteristic of traditional Chinese paintings as a way to break time and space.

Confucianism is a belief system based on the teachings of Confucius that emphasizes love and respect for human beings, the value of learning, and the value of family, including ancestors.

And feng shui. A Chinese practice in which elements of space are arranged in a way that maximizes the flow of energy.

The big idea for today is that Neo-Confucianism was an important philosophical influence on northern Song landscape painting.

for all the common era, which is after 0 AD, up until the early 20th century, China was ruled by a succession of dynasties. Again, I've outlined the majority here, but this shouldn't be considered the definitive list, but rather an outline.

we'll be looking at the Song dynasty today. A period that was weak militarily, but extremely advanced technologically and politically, and philosophically progressive. And the Song dynasty is in blue. And the artwork that we'll be looking at all comes from China, shown here in dark green.

Confucianism dates back all the way to the sixth and fifth centuries BC. Neo-Confucianism, or new Confucianism, is a form of Confucianism that revived Confucianist thought and became very ingrained the sociopolitical context of China.

of the fundamental thoughts in new Confucianism is the idea of li, or idea, which is viewed as an underlying reason and order to nature, or connection between nature and living beings. The reason that we bring this up in discussing Song dynasty landscape painting is that this belief was very influential on the way that landscape painters created their images and the way that nature is depicted. They sought to represent an idea of nature rather than specific places. We'll talk more about this in just a moment.

So why do we care? The Chinese landscape painting of the Song dynasty is different than landscape paintings we see in the 15th- or 16th-century Italy, for example. They're not showing specific places, but rather ideas of nature, or rather, ideas of features within nature.

the painting on the right, for example, this isn't an image of a specific mountain scene, like a photograph, but rather it evokes the idea or sense of the concept of mountain scene.

also make use of shifting perspective. Shifting perspective is a way of visually moving the viewer through the painting in a number of directions, as there is no fixed vanishing point as in linear perspective. Rather, objects appear closer and farther away, detailed or less detailed, depending on the way the artist is intending to pull the viewer through the landscape. It's a different way of viewing a painting them what was typical in Western landscape paintings and arguably a more organic way of looking at the landscape.

The use of shifting perspective was better suited to the long horizontal scrolls that these landscapes are painted on. The painting wasn't intended to be framed, but extended indefinitely in all directions.

This scene is just a small detail from a much larger scroll, almost seven feet long. Even though the title references the travelers, nature is far and away the subject of this painting, dominating the scroll and relegating the travelers to tiny figures that are almost hidden within the painting. Again, there isn't a single vanishing point, but rather a use of shifting perspective to visually move you across the width of the landscape.

This image gives you a better idea of the use of shifting perspective. And though it's titled "Fishing on a Mountain Stream," it isn't very evident from this image. Again, nature is clearly the focus, rather than a specific place. It could be any place. It's an idea of nature. Linear perspective would be too limiting in this kind of landscape.

This final example, titled "Streams and Mountains with a Clear Distant View" is an example of the southern Song dynasty landscape style. Here, the artist uses a sharper contrast between light and dark and more simplified forms than what we've seen previously. It's essentially a different application of the same stylistic elements of Chinese landscape painting that we've seen before, evoking that sense of a human connection in nature, but in a more reserved way then that of the northern Song style.

Now in either case, Song dynasty landscape paintings embody our connection to nature, and they achieve more than just the depiction of nature to create a state of mind.

So now that we've reached the end this lesson, let's take a look at our objectives and see how we did. N that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Describe the basic traits of landscape painting, including shifting perspective? Can you identify examples of Buddhist art and architecture from China?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Neo-Confucianism was an important philosophical influence on northern Song landscape painting.

that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Neo-Confucianism

    A moral and ethical Chinese philosophy that revived Confucianism, but added influences from Daoism and Buddhism and emphasized the importance of nature and a sense of spiritual connection with nature.

  • Li (idea)

    The underlying reason and order of nature, as seen in its living forms.

  • Ji (spirit)

    Life energy or life force.

  • Shifting Perspective

    A characteristic of traditional Chinese paintings as a way to break time and space.

  • Confucianism

    A belief system based on the teachings of Confucius that emphasizes love and respect for human beings, the value of learning, and the value of family, including ancestors.

  • Feng Shui

    A Chinese practice in which elements of space are arranged in a way that maximizes the flow of energy.