Blue-Green Realms in Chinese Painting

The blue-green (qinglu 青綠) mode of painting landscapes was well established by the Tang dynasty (618–907), as can be seen in Tang wall paintings at the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, in northwestern China. In later times, painted landforms in blue-green colors were used as allusions to the distant past or to paradisiacal realms. Sometimes outlined in gold, the brightly colored pigments incorporated minerals that were used in alchemical practices searching for an elixir of immortality. More than just a representation of the natural world, therefore, the paintings also embodied the magical properties associated with the imagined realms of the immortals. Tang dynasty examples of blue-green painting are also thought to have been the basis for the development in Japan of the yamato-e style in its use of bright mineral pigments and gold.