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A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains

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Period: Northern Song dynasty (960-1127)
Medium: ink and color on silk
Format: handscroll

Date: 1113
Artist(s): Wang Ximeng (b. 1096)

Dimensions: 51.5 × 1191.5 cm

The painting is the only extant work by Wang Ximeng who created it at the age of seventeen. It is stunning in its sweeping scale, rich coloration, and the expressive minute details. On a single piece of silk, mountain formations and groupings of infinite variety rise and fall between a cloudless sky and rippling waters, extending as far as the eye can see in all directions. Punctuating the spectacular scene, thatched houses, bridges, and antlike figures are described in fine detail.

The artist used multiple perspectives, which is typical of the handscroll format, to present a continuous landscape that is naturally separated into six sections by bridges and water. Mountain formations play a dominant role in each section, while the manipulation of the "three distances" formula is so skillful that a viewer can enter this vast landscape and roam from beginning to end, over land or water, without ever being hindered by technical aberrations.

The painting is a masterpiece of "blue-green landscape"(qinglü shanshui). Azurite blue and malachite green dominate, with touches of pale brown. Brush strokes in this composition are subordinated to the colors.

"Blue-green landscape" dates from the Sui and Tang dynasties (sixth to tenth centuries) or even earlier. Zhan Ziqian (act. late 6th c.) and Li Sixun (651-716) were celebrated painters of this genre. However, of all surviving "blue-green landscape" works none can surpass Wang Ximeng's A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains (Qianli jiangshan tu). Precisely described details such as figures, water ripples, buildings, and boats are meticulous and at the same time the landscape overwhelms with its vast expanses. The methodical treatment of all subjects in the painting reflects the style of the Northern Song Painting Academy.

Yuan calligrapher Pu Guang (act. late 13th c.) wrote in his laudatory colophon after the painting, "Among landscape works, [this painting] survived through many years. Surely it is the sole moon among stars".

The mountain formations are largely in the style of south China, as are the daily activities presented in the painting. Therefore, we can tell that the artist was a native of southern China who was familiar with the topography. From the inscription by the corrupt and controversial prime minister Cai Jing (1047-1126), we know that he received the painting from Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125) in 1113, the same year that Wang finished it at the age of eighteen sui as a student at the Imperial Painting Academy.

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