The Landscape Painting of China and Japan

By Hugo Munsterberg | Go to book overview

7
The Yüan Period

A profound change in the landscape occurred during the fourteenth century under the Yüan dynasty, though it was neither the conquest of China by the Mongols in 1279 nor their artistic patronage which had such decisive effects, for most of the outstanding painters withdrew from the court life of the capital, preferring to live and work in solitude in their retreats rather than serve the foreign dynasty. Unquestionably the development of Chinese art would have taken the same direction even if the native Sung dynasty had continued, for the revolution which occurred in the outlook of the Chinese painters was an artistic rather than a political one. The nature of this change can probably best be summarized by comparing it to the transformation which Western art underwent during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when Cézanne and the modern movement brought about a similar revolution; while the earlier periods had been interested in the ideas and sentiments connected with landscape painting, the later one had what is best described as a formalistic approach. The Southern Sung artist had been profoundly philosophical, always stressing man's insignificance in relation to the universe, and the T'ang painters had placed primary emphasis upon the figure, using the landscape chiefly as a setting for the human scene portrayed, but the Yüan artists' chief interest was in the landscape itself, with human figures either not occurring or playing only an incidental part. They were concerned,

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