Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
In this vast, yet intimate landscape, a scholar and his attendant in the lower left corner gaze upon a watery expanse with houses and boats on the shore, as banks of mist drift among distant mountains. The artist, Tan’yu, was head of the main branch of the Kano School and the Tokugawa shogun’s official painter. Kano School painters were the principal practitioners of kanga, literally, “Chinese painting,” which blended domestic and imported Chinese painting styles. Tan’yu’s brushwork, for example, owes much to the Southern Song dynasty painter Xia Gui. Favoring strongly modulated linework and a Chinese-flavored repertory of themes, Kano painters enjoyed the lucrative patronage of the samurai ruling class, and the Kano School would reign supreme for almost four hundred years, from the 16th century on.
In China, landscapes had emerged as the most popular subject for painting by the year 1000. Besides the pleasure of admiring an artist’s skill in capturing scenic beauty, a viewer could travel in heart and mind, if not in body, to unsullied places, gaining the benefits of walking amidst mountains and streams without leaving home.
According to the 11th-century painter Guo Xi, a virtuous man nourishes his nature in rustic retreats, delighting in streams and rocks, meeting woodcutters and hermits, and watching wild animals at play.
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