Friday, 7 October 2011

A Pure and Remote View/ Visualizing Early Chinese Landscape by James Cahill

James Cahill, Professor Emeritus of Chinese Art at UC Berkeley and author of Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China, has spent the last two years working on a comprehensive historical account of early Chinese landscape painting, a topic that has been somewhat neglected in the field of Art History. The series, titled A Pure and Remote View: Visualizing Early Chinese Landscape Painting, was sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS) and produced by Chatterbox Films.

Hosted online by IEAS and available on Youtube, the seven-part series is composed of short introductions by Cahill and over 2,200 detailed high-resolution images of selected Chinese paintings and works of pictorial art from the early period up to the end of the Song dynasty in the late thirteenth century. You can also find the series, as well as a repository of mostly unpublished, or hard-to-find writings on James Cahill’s website.

Untill now, 12 lectures have been published with more to follow:

I begin by introducing my three major teachers, and go on to outline the background of the series: early attempts at histories of Chinese painting, photographing and cataloguing projects carried out in the 1960s-70s, changing ideas about how art history should be constructed and written. I introduce Ernst Gombrich as a model for the kind of art-historical narrative I will attempt, but also emphasize the strong tradition of critical and historical writing in China that underlies my account. This first lecture ends with a brief introduction to early pictorial art in China: Neolithic painted pots, hunting-style bronzes, the earliest paintings on silk from Changsha.

This lecture considers the growth of pictorial art during the Han dynasty (208 BCE to AD 220), beginning with paintings on silk (including the famous 'flying garment") from the tombs at Changsha, continuing with pictures on tomb objects (mingqi) and lacquer designs, and ending with the remarkable relief pictures on tomb tiles found in Sichuan. Early renderings of space and the beginnings of expressive rushwork are revealed in visual analyses of all these.

This third lecture, more than two hours long, treats the pictorial art of the variously-named period between the Han and Tang dynasties, a period of political division and warfare during which relative peace in the Yangzi Delta region around Nanjing permitted the emergence there of major artists and a flourishing tradition of picturemaking. Detailed looking at scroll paintings ascribed to one artist, GuKaizhi, introduces issues of dating and the faithfulness of copies after a lost original; brief discussions of two early essays open a continuing consideration of the rich Chinese critical and theoretical literature on painting.

This lecture is about figure painting of the Tang dynasty (AD 610-907). Tomb paintings of the early Tang, works associated with the legendary figure master Wu Daozi, reliable copies after palace-lady pictures by Zhou Fang and others together with one original, make up a detailed exploration of this greatest age of figure painting in China.

Landscape painting in the Tang dynasty takes two directions: a detailed and colorful style, and the beginnings of an ink-monochrome style. Examples of both in surviving copies and fragments, along with a tomb wall painting. a
rubbing from a stone engraving, and the background landscape from a Buddhist image are shown and discussed in this lecture.

Another period of political disunity bridging the brief gap (AD 907-960) between two long-lasting dynasties, the Tang and the Song, the Five Dynasties was nonetheless an age of great innovation in landscape and other painting. This lecture uses reliable works of the period and close copies for visual exploration of striking pictorial images that draw the viewer's eye into their intricate spatial systems.

In this same period, five great masters of landscape--Jing Hao and Guan Tong, Dong Yuan and Juran, Li Cheng--brought to this art a new profundity of conception and diversity of styles. Although no surviving work can be firmly accepted as by any one of them, major paintings of high quality and importance are attributed to them, and are given close visual analysis in this lecture, which also introduces new theories and concepts of how landscape imagery can carry profound human meaning.

A time of greatest achievement in the development of landscape painting in China, the early Northern Song period saw the emergence of a fully formed, monumental landscape art as achieved by three towering masters, Yan Wengui, Fan Kuan, and Xu Daoning, all represented by extant genuine works. These are explored in detail, along with paintings by some of their followers
and imitators.

This lecture is devoted to the late Northern Song master Guo Xi, the last of the great masters of monumental landscape, beginning with his essay on painting landscape, continuing with a prolonged exploration of his masterwork Early Spring, and ending with a consideration of other paintings ascribed to him.

After discussions of some large theoretical and methodological issues, this lecture presents paintings by two artists who were members of the Song imperial family, Zhao Lingrang by birth and Wang Shen through marriage. The strengths and limitations of their works are brought out in a discussion of the implications of amateurism in painting.

The beginnings and early stages of the scholar-amateur movement in painting, known first as shidafu hua and later as wenren hua, are presented through works by or attributed to the early literati masters, notably Su Shi or Su Dongpo, Mi Fu, and Li Gonglin. An especially fine painting from the next generation, the Red Cliff handscroll by Qiao Zhongchang, is given a longer, detailed treatment.

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