Art Quiz: The Answer is Jinbi Shanshui

Did you get it right? I took a wild guess when I did this quiz, and I guessed wrong! Probably you fared better.

So, what is jinbi shanshui? or chin-pi shan-shui as it’s also called? Or maybe you know it as qinglubai or qinglu shanshui. Whatever name we give it, it’s a style of Chinese landscape painting that was popular during both the Sui and Tang dynasties — in other words, from 518 through 907, or thereabouts.

I don’t speak Chinese, but according to Encyclopedia Britannica (the source of all quiz questions and answers), jinbi shanshui means “gold-bluegreen landscape”.

In this style, a rich decorative effect was achieved by the application of two mineral colours, azurite blue and malachite green, together with gold, to a fine line drawing. Among the early masters of jinbi shanshui were Zhan Ziqian in the Sui dynasty, the Tang painters Li Sixun and his son Li Zhaodao, who was said to have changed his father’s style, even surpassed it, and who spurred an interest in seascapes. This style was also employed by some conservative artists of later centuries such as the Song painters Zhao Boju and Zhao Bosu and the Yuan painters Zhao Mengfu and Qian Xuan. The last distinguished exponent of the green-and-blue style was the Ming painter Qiu Ying.

From: Encyclopedia Britannica

I do like Chinese landscape art, although I know little about it. Maybe I like it because of the azurite blues and malachite greens along with the metallic gold.

It’s difficult to find good online reproductions of these very old paintings, but you might want to follow these links to learn more and see more.

China Online Museum

Chinese Landscape Paintings: History, Themes, and Significance

China Culture – Earliest Chinese Landscape Painting

Art, and notably art history, is quite complex, and as often as not there are political factors involved. This was definitely true for Chinese landscape art.

One very interesting period in Chinese Painting is the Tang, beginning in the 7th century. Around 750 an aesthetic distinction forms between the loose (she) and dense (mi) style. The art critic refers to the style in which lines are drawn. Crispy, continuously, sharp or wild, flowing, irregular? While looking through paintings of this age, you will surely recognize the green and blue paintings, founded by Li Sixun. The main characteristic is the relatively dark background and the vivid blue and glowing green, malachite coloring of the foreground. Sixun was a general of the imperial family, but in opposition to the current rule. In exile he developed his painting style, which is nurtured by official representational painting, but introduces the renegade coloring as well as the new use of landscape as part of the story-telling. Several members of the Li family were artists including Li Linfu, who was prime minister and dictator in the 730s and 40s. The popularity of this style also had political reasons, as it was used by the Li’s during the reinstitution of their political authority. Indeed, the tomb of Prince Yide, family member and killed by the then empress Wu Zetian, is the best source for it. Successful political opposition led to the new blue and green style, and it is an example of representational art, as the brushwork is especially clean and highlighting details.

From: Chinese Painting — The Li Family

And so I’ve learned something new today, and I’d like to know more about this period of landscape art. It inspires me — especially after working with gold watercolor yesterday. I want to introduce more metallic hues in my landscapes, and I want to incorporate more of the “basic elements” of Chinese art: mountains, rivers, and waterfalls. There is deep meaning behind each of these elements. It is said that Chinese landscape art was a way of communing with nature, and this is part of my art mission, my reason for painting landscapes.

Indeed, I want to know more and allow these very old masters of art to watch over my painting, subtly influencing the choices I make today.


    1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I can’t wait to read — and study — each of your articles. I’m going through the first — about balance — and I would like to LIKE the post, but that option isn’t coming up for me. The post is already answering one of the most fundamental questions of art that I have asked many times, that of finding a way to create balance without losing a dynamic sense of movement or energy. Seeing “balance” through the concept of Chinese scales has opened my eyes and my mind in so many ways! I will definitely enjoy reading your posts, so that you again for sharing the knowledge you have.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you very much! Yes, the aspect of balance is one of the big differenced between Western and Chinese painting. Image composition and perspective are other aspects that you should pay attention to. I will try to write an article about Daoism in painting soon.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you! I have a beautiful sumi-e ink set and a supply of rice paper sitting on my art supply shelves. It’s simply too beautiful to use! Maybe as I read more, I’ll actually get brave enough to take it down and practice the different strokes.

        Liked by 1 person

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