Paradise Found: The Long Landscape of 1486 and the Peach Blossom Spring Utopia

Paradise Found: The Long Landscape of 1486 and the Peach Blossom Spring Utopia

Steffani Bennett - Assistant Professor of Japanese Art and the Joan B. Mirviss Chair in Japanese Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 4:00pm
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The handscroll painting known as The Long Landscape, painted by Sesshū Tōyō (1420-ca.1506) in 1486, is a landmark of medieval Japanese art. At almost sixteen meters in length, the painting was unlike any other Japanese landscape painting of its time. Formally, visually, and even materially, The Long Landscape seemed to mark a rupture with preceding tradition and to represent a new horizon for landscape painting in the archipelago. Despite the distinctiveness of the work, scholars’ interpretations of the landscape’s meaning have been strikingly generic. Most studies cast the panoramic landscape as simply a universe of reclusion and detachment, qualities that can be associated with numerous other landscape compositions of the period. This presentation attempts to reconcile the paradox at the heart of Sesshū’s masterpiece, a painting that has been treated as simultaneously remarkable and yet somehow undistinguished. Through close analysis, I reinscribe The Long Landscape into the preexisting landscape tradition of late-medieval Japan while also delving into the painting’s pictorial world to offer a new reading of the landscape’s meaning. 

Dr. Bennett is a historian of premodern Japanese art history, with a focus in painting of the medieval period. Within that realm, her scholarship has centered on the life and work of Sesshū Tōyō (1420-ca. 1506), one of Japan’s most celebrated painters. Although a specialist in the artistic traditions of Japan, Dr. Bennett’s interests are thoroughly interregional in nature with an emphasis on Sino-Japanese cultural relations. She is currently completing her first book manuscript, tentatively titled Profession of the Brush: Sesshū Tōyō and the Painterly Profession in Muromachi Japan, which will be the first book-length study of this seminal Japanese artist to be published in English in over eighty years. She is also developing a second book project on the history of the landscape as a painting genre in Japan.