Out of this Anarchy and Chaos

A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks (10th century) by Li Cheng

“In the early 10th century, China was torn apart by endless civil war. Yet it was out of this anarchy and chaos that the Chinese tradition of landscape painting first blossomed as the great subject of art…

“Dominating the scroll are mountains, symbols of the Song dynasty. The biggest, most imposing peak is the Emperor, the lesser peaks are his ministers. Li Cheng’s message is that this is the protecting force beneath which China can recover its harmony and rebuild its civilization… And the bottom half of the scroll is crowded, not just with people…. This is our world, this is the place we inhabit. 

“This is more than mere propaganda.  Li Cheng asks profound questions, which go to the heart of our relationship with the world around us. As our eye ascends through the painting, so our whole approach to it also ascends to a higher order of question. Right in the visual centre is the temple itself, and the temple is almost more important than the whole mountain. It is the place of equipoise, the place of peace.” 

— Simon Schama, Civilizations (2018) Episode 4: Picturing Paradise