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Mountains and water: Chinese landscape painting
The Admonitions handscroll is an important work in the history of Chinese art. The painting is one of the earliest on silk in China and is probably a sixth-century AD copy of an original painting by Gu Kaizhi (about AD 344-406). It illustrates episodes from an eighty-line poem entitled 'The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies', written as a code of ethics for the women of the imperial court.
Gu was a leading figure painter in early China especially renowned for his ability to show expressions and feelings in his paintings. The scene illustrated here, known as 'The mountain and the hunter', is the only landscape scene in the scroll. The mountains represent a great person, and the hunter, about to kill an animal, represents how quickly greatness can be lost. Early landscape painting was very simplified. The basic shape of the mountain is a triangle and the hunter, animals and birds are painted on a larger scale than the mountain because they are more important.
The painting is also important because of the people who collected it. It was recorded in the collection of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song Dynasty in the twelfth century AD and has an inscription by Emperor Zhangzong of the Jin Dynasty (ruled 1189-1208). During the Yuan and Ming Dynasties it passed into private hands until in the Qing Dynasty it entered the collection of the Emperor Qianlong (1736-95).