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As the Story Unrolls

August 31, 2017–December 3, 2017
Gallery 134

Real or imaginary stories have played a dynamic role in the paintings of premodern China. Whereas a single event might be effectively depicted in hanging-scroll format, the handscroll, unrolled right to left and section by section, lent itself to both panoramic imagery and sequential compositions. The figures depicted in these paintings range from rustic to highly cultured, and their settings from boundless landscapes to intimate gardens. The most idyllic imagery, painted in finely ground and colorful mineral pigments, depicts a peaceful and bountiful farming valley suspended in time within a mountain cave. From right to left, its scenes closely follow that described in a narrative poem by Tao Qian (365–427). In a more realistic image, scholarly figures lead the viewer through China’s traditional Four Accomplishments: painting and calligraphy, strategy, music, and literature.