The T'ang Period
NOT until the T'ang period ( 618-907) did landscape painting evolve into a separate and major genre of Chinese painting. This age, in fact, was looked upon by later critics as a golden age, during which some of the greatest artistic figures were active. How much of this estimate was based upon actual knowledge of their works and how much is the characteristically Chinese veneration of all that is ancient anti traditional is hard to tell, but even the famous Sung scholar Su Tung-po complained in 1085 that only one or two original scrolls by Wu Tao-tzu could be found. Today the situation is even worse, and it is doubtful if there is more than one true T'ang landscape in existence. This state of affairs is very similar to that in Greek art, where we have numerous literary references to the famous sculptors of the Golden Age but few if any originals which can be attributed to them with certainty, since all the surviving works are either Roman copies or minor works by anonymous artists.
The first of the four great artistic figures who dominated this period was Li Ssu-hsün, known as General Li, who was probably born around 650 and died in 716. His fame was no doubt due just as much to his high social position and official rank as to his artistic accomplishments, for he was a descendant of the founder of the T'ang dynasty. Critics such as the celebrated Sung painter Mi Fei and the Ming scholar Tung Ch'i-ch'ang