Storied Mountains and Dense Forests

Tags: Five Dynasties Period | National Palace Museum | painting

Chü-jan (fl. latter half of 10th c.), Five Dynasties Period (907-960)
Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 144.1 x 55.4 cm 
Chü-jan, a native of Chiang-ning (modern Nanking), was a monk at the K'ai-yüan Temple who originally specialized in painting the southern scenery of Kiangnan. A student of Tung Yüan, he followed the vanquished Li Hou-chu of the Southern T'ang to the newly established Sung dynasty capital of K'ai-feng in 975. Since Chü-jan came under the influence of the northern landscape style in the Sung, his horizontal "level-distance" manner of Tung Yüan was adapted to become a vertical "high distance" one. Yet he still retained the Tung style of "alum heads" for mountaintops and "hemp-fiber strokes" for texturing the hills. He also continued to use light ink to capture the atmosphere of cloudy hills that suggest the mist and rain of Kiangnan, thus retaining aspects of the southern landscape tradition.

After a sudden downpour, some dampness still lingers amongst the mountains and hills. A narrow, twisting path winds its way silently through the forest, and--as if afraid to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere--there is no activity on the road, and not even the trees by the path stand out in any special manner. On the left, the mountains are piled one after another in an orderly fashion, and their surfaces seem especially gentle and calm depicted with thin, long lines. Under the artist's delicate brush, the world formed by these mountains and trees seems to have stopped, and even the air itself seems to have frozen in the calm. Looking at the peaks, small pebbles are piled on top, while the body of the mountain is covered in long, gentle lines like tracks made by the rain as it falls over the mountain. This way of portraying mountain rock later gained a technical term in art history, being known respectively as "alum heads" and "hemp-fiber texture strokes". Based on these characteristics is the stylistic relationship between Tung Yüan and Chü-jan.


Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum