The Beginnings of Chinese
THE earliest landscapes in Chinese art are found in the Han period ( 202 B.C.--220A.D.) some two thousand years ago. At that time mountains, clouds, trees, and buildings first appeared in relief carvings, textile designs, mirror backs, and inlaid metal objects, but the elements of nature were rendered in a highly symbolic and abstract way. Although similar forms must also have appeared in the paintings of the period, no examples of such works have survived, and our knowledge, at best, is fragmentary. However, the evidence clearly suggests that nothing but the most stylized and primitive kind of landscape setting appeared in these early examples of landscape painting. The main elements were no doubt highly simplified, with very geometric trees and mountains rendered so abstractly that they would hardly have been recognizable. The reason for this was not so much a lack of skill on the part of the artists, since Han painters were in many ways highly competent, even sophisticated craftsmen; it was rather that they concentrated more on figure painting, devoting their major effort to the portrayal of scenes from myths, legends, history, and filial piety, and hence were little interested in landscape painting as such.