on a Mountain Ledge by Kuncan 1612-ca.1686
From the Song period, Chinese theorists began to distinguish between the professional and the amateur ideals in painting. In the 11th century a group of scholar-officials turned to painting as a means of self-expression. The mastery of the brush was a requirement for a high official. As in the case of calligraphy, painting was now also regarded as the mark of the cultivated individual. Rather than create a mere representation of a particular landscape, painters sought instead to capture the essence of a scene and the metaphors it might offer for life.
Kuncan (pronunciation "koon-tsan", 1612-73) is considered one of the four great monk-painters of 17th century China. He spent his youth studying the Confucian classics before becoming a Chan Buddhist monk. He traveled, lived in the wilderness enduring many hardships, and finally became the abbot of a temple at the Bao'en monastery, where he remained the rest of his life. It is this monastery that is the subject of the painting.
to look at this work
The painter has used a shifting point of view rather than the one-point perspective we are used to in Western art. The eye wanders through the landscape looking down, then across, then up at the scene.
In the upper right-hand corner of the painting is a poem written by the artist that describes his view of the landscape. He tells of his earlier wanderings and equates them with the Buddhist quest for enlightenment to which he dedicated his life. The painting is signed and dated.
this object was made
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