This online gallery explores the ways in which mountains are depicted in East Asian art. Concerns about the role of mountains in East Asian religions, philosophy, and popular culture will be explored.
Mountains are such dominating features in East Asian geography that they have played a major role in shaping beliefs and cultural understanding for centuries. They are venerated by major religions, including Daoism, Chan (Zen) Buddhism, Confucianism and Shinto, and have infiltrated popular culture. Many mountains, including the Five Great Mountains of China and Mount Fuji in Japan, have been pilgrimage destinations for thousands of years.
Mountains in East Asia also had very practical implications for the development of infrastructure, trade, and agriculture. The most famous example of the role of mountains in shaping Chinese (if not global) history is the northern Silk Route, a series of trade routes that began in present-day Xi’an and followed mountain ranges across China. For more information about and resources regarding the Silk Route, see our Online Gallery, “Traveling the Silk Route.”
Extending across genres in the same manner mountains extend across miles, mountains appear most often in landscape painting but are also incorporated into sculpture, architecture, and woodblock prints. Often, these pieces reflect religious ideologies of the mountain, but they have also become symbols of immortality and political philosophies, and serve the more basic function of organizing the composition of a painting or drawing.
In exploring this gallery, students will:
• Discover the ways in which East Asian religions venerated mountains.
• Learn how visual artists used mountain imagery to explore intellectual and religious themes.
This discovery will require students to:
• Look closely at objects and observe details
• Use prior knowledge in conjunction with observation
• Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge
Using this Resource:
• Social Studies teachers and students will be interested in what this gallery reveals about the intersection of geography with East Asian culture, as concerns the role of the mountains in East Asian religions, philosophy, and popular culture.
• Visual Arts teachers and students will be interested in the techniques and design of woodblock printing and landscape ink painting.
• Language Arts teachers and students will be interested in the connections between mountains in the visual arts to how they are depicted in poetry.
• World Language teachers and students will be interested in studying the cultures that produced the Chinese and Japanese languages.
For sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs available under Related Resources.
The objects in this tour are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum’s online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into the conceptualization and rendering of the mountain in East Asian visual art.