Landscape Painting, Cartographic Practice, and Geographical Thought in Song-Dynasty China

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The Song dynasty was not only a decisive period in the formation of landscape painting as a major genre but also a time of intense engagement with and transformations in cartography and geography. So-called topographical landscape painting from this period allows us to not only examine the pictorial strategies used in rendering the physical world, it also raises questions with regard to the larger epistemological framework of geographical discourse. Focusing on depictions of the Yangzi River in the handscroll format, my presentation aims to disassociate topographical paintings from their previously ascribed function as passive documents of physical reality. Instead, a careful analysis of pictorial strategies and the interaction with other practices in the production of geographical knowledge reveals how topographical painting constructs images of place, region, and empire according to different interests and agendas.

Julia Orell is a postdoctoral fellow at the Getty Research Institute, where she pursues a research project on the historiography of East Asian art history with a focus on German-language scholarship in the late 19th and early 20th century and its methodological repercussions. Her primary field of research is Chinese painting of Song and Yuan dynasties and she completed her dissertation Picturing the Yangzi River in Southern Song China (1127-1279) at the University of Chicago in 2011. Julia taught Chinese art history at the University of Zurich in Switzerland from 2010 to 2014. Among her publications are an article on Karl With’s (1891-1980) scholarship on East Asian art and an essay on 17th-century depictions of the Yangzi River, which is forthcoming in the conference volume The Itineraries of Art: Topographies of Artistic Mobility in Europe and Asia 1500-1900. She is preparing a book manuscript titled Landscape Painting and Geographical Knowledge in Song China.

Picture: Detail from: Ten Thousand Miles of the Yangzi River, late 12th century, handscroll, ink on silk, 43.5 x 1656.6 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

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Published: Monday, May 11, 2015