I have looked at the relationship between Chinese landscape painting and Japanese gardens before in this blog (see the series of blogs 'On Chinese Painting and Japanese Gardens' from October 2013 on), as it seems to me that Chinese painting have been an important source of inspiration to garden creators in Japan. In this series of blogs I shall write about ten different correspondences between paintings and gardens. That is, ten aspects of composition that are shared between the two art forms. Chinese paintings were imported into Japan in great number from a relatively early period, and it seems evident that the people who created gardens in Japan were aware of the paintings. Some of the garden creators were painters in their own right, such as Sesshu Tōyō and Kano Motonobu, and there will have been others. Writings by Chinese painters would have also reached Japan, and were presumably studied there too.There is an extensive body of writing and art criticism by Chinese literati which one imagines would have also been studied intensely in Japan. For example Hseih Ho's 'Six Principles of Painting' were known of in Japan, where they were known of as the 'Six Laws (roppô, 六法) see also my blog post 'On Chinese Painting and Japanese Gardens' part 2.
The proposed correspondences in this series are not written of in order of importance, nor are they intended to be comprehensive. They are a selection of concepts or principles which may be found in both art forms, they arise in Chinese landscape paintings and which I believe helped shaped garden creation in Japan. Nor really should they be taken as being separate ideas, in truth they are all interlinked and even to some extent overlap in practice. To separate out ten correspondences is granted an artificial approach if taken as independently existing principles within the garden tradition. I have written on each as a way of identifying and illustrating them as aspects of the greater tradition of garden creation in Japan.
1. 'Host and Guest'
“In a landscape painting there must be a ‘host and guest in mountains, to and fro in water, tortuousness in hills, up and down in a mountain range…” Ching Hao (ca. 870 -930).
“The ‘host‘ peak as is most fitting is lofty and tall; the ‘guest' mountains should hasten toward it.” Wang Wei (701-761)
This term which is derived from the language of Chinese painters and illustrates their conception of a reciprocal relationship between elements of the painting’s composition. Pertaining to an organisation of the principal elements of the composition the term also implies an underlying order of dominance or importance of status in terms of the connectivity or interdependence between elements.
Usually in a composition (in the garden) there is one element, almost invariably an upright stone, that has a particular importance as acting as a ‘hub’ for the composition. It has been various called the ‘Main’, ‘Dominant’, ‘Master’ or ‘Host’ stone, 主石. It is a stone to which other pieces are arranged in relation to and acts as a central hub to the particular grouping. The ‘Host and Guest’ relationship is widely found in landscape painting too, where the Host is normally the tallest, most prominent feature depicted in a painting, usually a mountain. The Host element is rarely situated in the centre of the composition, but will always take a prominent position, either to one side or the other or above or below the centre depending on the composition.
|A Host stone can be seen at the top of the stream, all the other stones in the composition relate back to this piece.|
This placement of a dominant element draws the eye, either consciously or unconsciously toward it, and from that point the eye can move freely around the composition, in what becomes an immersive experience. In this way a subtle sense of structure or order is also thus established. This gives a sense of connectivity that will bind the group into a cohesive unit. This can also be seen in painting as a way of organising the principal elements (mountains) of the composition in order to create the impression of spatial depth on a two dimensional surface. In the garden it also works to create depth and also enables the garden creator to manipulate scale
In the Sakuteiki (‘Record of Garden Making’) the 11th C garden manual this idea is noted as follows: “Choose a particularly splendid stone and set it as the Main Stone (omo ishi). Then, following the request of the first stone set the others accordingly”. An important element of the citation from the Sakuteiki is contained in the term ‘following the request’, this establishes the centrality of the “Main’ or ‘Host ‘ stone., as what is implied is that the stones subsequently set are in a subordinate or supporting position to the ‘Main’ stone. This is the way that arrangements of stones are created in the garden, a stone of central importance is set up and then following that additional stones are placed in relation to the main stone. Depending on the size and complexity of the garden project this process is repeated over and over. Furthermore, even between groups of stone some relational values are always maintained, thereby linking all arrangements into an overall coherence. The planting that follows on after the stone arrangements are completed will also take their positions from enhancing and developing the sense of order or unity within the whole. What comes to the viewer experiencing the garden or scene is one expressing an internal harmony, where everything ‘belongs’ in its place and all elements of the garden support and enhance one other. The viewer is not outside of this process or organisation, but is an integral element to the whole composition. By this means a sense of harmony comes into the viewer experiencing the garden scenery.
The relationship between Host and Guest can also be read as social comment on the structure of Japanese society during the Heian period (794-1185) and throughout the pre-modern feudal eras. During this long period society in general was strongly stratified into classes, an adherence to class was an important means of defining and ordering society. Confucianism was the prevailing moral code in China and this carried over to Japan too. Confucius (551-479 BC) as a teacher, philosopher, teacher and politician argued that social cohesion was achieved through familial loyalty, respect for ancestors, and the family unit as a basis for good government. In the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms complied some time after his death it is recorded:
“Chi K'ang asked how to cause the people to reverence their ruler,
to be faithful to him, and to go on to nerve themselves to virtue.
The Master said, "Let him preside over them with gravity, then they
will reverence him.
Let him be final and kind to all, then they will
be faithful to him.
Let him advance the good and teach the incompetent, then
they will eagerly seek to be virtuous."