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The Sacred Landscape

  Mountains of the Immortals (Detail)
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Chen Ruyan
(c. 13311371) Mountains of the Immortals (detail)
Yuan dynasty, late 14th century
Handscroll; ink and colors on silk
33 x 102.9 cm
Cleveland Museum of Art; gift of Mr. and Mrs. A. Dean Perry
cat. no. 144


Mountains of the Immortals

The style of this handscroll intentionally imitates much earlier landscape paintings of the Northern- and Southern-dynasties period. When China was under the control of the foreign Mongol government, this style represented communion with a distinctively Chinese cultural heritage. The reference to an older painting style is strengthened by the use of bright mineral pigments to color the mountains. This highlights the conception of the mountain as the material form of vital energy, the same concept that allowed the minerals found in mountains to be used as ingredients in elixirs of alchemy.

Chen Ruyan's work is a classic depiction of an immortals' paradise. The visual journey through the painting begins with the Taoist temple nestled in the mountains at the right of the scroll. Further on, an immortal sits in a clearing next to a zither and magical fungi and watches a young attendant dance with cranes, symbols of longevity. In another clearing to the left, two more immortals walk among auspicious animals and plants, while a third immortal rides above them on a crane.

Chen Ruyan was an associate of several famous Yuan-dynasty landscape painters known for their connections with Taoism, including Ni Zan (13061374), who inscribed this painting. Chen aided in the downfall of the Yuan government and served the new Ming dynasty until he was executed for an unknown offense in 1371. At the beginning of the Ming dynasty, this was already his most famous work.




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