Quick Guide

Quick Guide to East Asian Landscape Hanging Scrolls

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Photograph of an enlarged portion of a large hanging scroll from Korea. The painting is of a monochromatic landscape with hues of light to dark gray with a hint of brown for a group of trees in the foreground. The middleground of the painting consists of a body of water that looks like a river and mist. The background is a tall, dominating mountain.

East Asian hanging scrolls depicting landscapes have been popular in art for over 1,000 years! Landscape painting reveals both the majesty of nature and also the way humans view their relationship to nature. Scholars who were stuck inside for long periods of time would look at landscape paintings and imagine themselves outside, wandering through forests or hiking up mountains. These paintings served as a mental escape and a tool to think about the place humans have in the world.

Many landscape paintings are hanging scrolls. Hanging scrolls can be hung so that one may view the painting in its entirety, but you can also focus on small sections at a time. Usually, you would need to get up very close to a painting to see the small sections, but the BMA has a tool to help you zoom in and see extreme details on some of the hanging scrolls in our collection.

View the video located in the Related Resources section below for a quick guide on how to access and look at landscape paintings, or follow the steps listed below.

"Landscape with Walking Gentleman, Boatman on River and Steep Mountains" Korea Joseon period (1392-1910),18th century


Before you begin, pick a song you want to listen to. I always recommend looking at a painting for at least the duration of one song. My go-to song is Ramble On by Led Zeppelin, but choose any song that gets you in the zone. 

  1. LOOK at the entire painting. Notice that there are sections of the painting. A top, middle, and bottom.
  2. SEARCH the painting for: 
    1. A mountain or mountains. There typically is a monumental mountain peak in a landscape painting. The mountain symbolizes a sacred area where people should not go. Mountains are the homes of gods. Mountains take thousands of years to form, therefore they stand the test of time.
    2. Mist. If you have a large mountain, there is usually mist that swirls around the middle of the painting. This swirling mist symbolizes the divide between the realm of gods and the realm of humans.
    3. Water. There is usually a waterfall, river, or lake/pond. Water shows movement and also harmony in nature. Think of the relationship between mountains and rivers. Rivers begin in the snowy mountains and then flow down to areas where people live. Rivers (water) connect mountains (home of the gods) to people.
    4. A tiny house or temple. Look somewhere below the mist and just may find a Buddhist or Taoist temple nestled in the forest. This also marks the highest place that people should go. To know their place within nature. You will also notice that man-made structures like temples have straight lines, and all the natural elements like mountains, trees, water have curvy lines. That is because there are no straight lines in nature – a reminder of people’s interference in the natural scenery. 
    5. A person or multiple people. Many times, figures of people walking, fishing, or thinking are depicted in the bottom portion of a landscape hanging scroll. Remember, these paintings were viewed by scholars who imagined themselves in these landscapes. Notice how small the human figures are in comparison to the mountain. What do you think that symbolizes?
  3. IMAGINE yourself in this landscape. What if you were indoors for a long period of time. Visualize yourself walking on the pathway leading up the mountain. Imagine your legs getting tired. Imagine the singing of the birds. Imagine the wind at your back. 
"Tiger on Rocks Among Bamboo" Japan, Copy after Sesson (later copy) Edo period (1618-1868), Probably 18th-19th century

Explore on your own

Use the techniques above to explore the two East Asian landscape hanging scrolls listed below. The Zoom Tool is located in the bottom right corner of the image.


Did you enjoy exploring the landscape using the zoom tool? We have more hanging scrolls in the collection for you to explore in detail. Below is a list of Japanese hanging scrolls. Not all of these scrolls depict landscapes. Have fun and let us know what scroll is your favorite. You never know, your favorite scroll may get installed in the Japanese gallery sometime soon!



Related Resources