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Travelers among Mountains and Streams

Fan Kuan (active 10th–early 11th century), Song Dynasty (960–1279)

Hanging scroll, ink and light color on silk, 206.3 x 103.3 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

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       The clusters of vegetation at the top of the tall mountain here are actually distant forests clinging to precarious perches. Running along the central axis of the scroll, the central mountain dominates the scene in a classic example of Northern Song monumental landscape painting. The rooftops of a building complex stand out in the right middle-ground. By the cluster of rocks in the right foreground is a path on which a mule train makes its way. A cascade as slender as silk falls from the heights above, culminating in the stream rushing down in eddies towards the foreground. From near to far, Fan Kuan has described with realistic detail the solemn grandeur of a majestic landscape. Fan Kuan rendered the mountains and slopes with jagged outline strokes and filled them with brush dabs like raindrops – techniques that highlight the monumental and eternal features of the mountains. To the right of the mule train, among the leaves, is the signature of Fan Kuan, a final touch by an artist to epitomize the insignificance of humans (including himself) compared to Nature. The signature was discovered by Li Lincan (李霖燦), a scholar at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, on August 5, 1958.