Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats

August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013

Secluded Temples and Rustic Retreats

Buddhist and Daoist temples were often located outside urban settings. Consequently, they sometimes functioned as sanctuaries or resorts where harried city dwellers might find spiritual and physical sustenance, partaking of simple vegetarian meals, meditation, lofty conversation, and strolls in the landscape. Summer Mountains features several such monastic retreats set within an awesome landscape. Painted by a court painter about 1050, the composition's orderly natural hierarchy, culminating with a towering central peak, was intended as a metaphor for the emperor presiding over a well-governed state. At the opposite extreme of such state-sponsored idylls was the ideal of the hermitage or rustic retreat as an expression of the desire to escape the pressures of politics or commerce. Set in remote corners of the landscape with no view of other dwellings, these imaginary havens embodied yearnings for quietude that were usually satisfied by a stroll in one's garden. But in times of political turmoil, images of rustic dwellings serene enough to attract a wild deer or a crane conveyed the wish for a sanctuary. The childlike naïveté of paintings such as Wang Meng's Simple Retreat reveal these visions to be unattainable fantasies.

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