It is curious to verify that while in Europe practically all the remains of painting that have been found from the 12th and 13th centuries have a religious character typical of the Romanesque era, in China quite a few paintings have been found depicting landscapes like this one by Ma Yüan.
However, it must be said that perhaps the Chinese art was used less to narrate the legends of Buddha, and instead was a support to encourage the meditation of their religious practices. In this sense, we must understand this type of landscape, which also has something religious in it and would be impossible to understand without relating it to Chinese beliefs and spirituality.
Ma Yüan's Moonlight Landscape
It is known that there were Chinese artists who fervently dedicated themselves to painting water or mountains with a clear intention of veneration, as natural elements to look at to achieve spiritual thoughts. They painted on silk scrolls, and their owners only unrolled them to be contemplated in peaceful moments, to meditate before that vision.
That's why in works like this Landscape in the light of the moon you don't have to look for a strict representation of a place. In fact, they were not painters who went out into the open air loaded with their artists' tools to carry out their works. It is known that they learnedpainting from curious methods in which concentration and meditation were very important, focusing on first painting individualized elements such as rocks or trees, but not contemplating nature but rather the work of previous masters.
After that period, it is when they went out to natural places, with the idea of admiring their beauty and capturing the moods that they provoked. Once achieved, and once in their workplace is when they undertook the work of painting, coordinating what they had felt in nature, what it had transmitted to them and what they had previously learned through their meditative processes. Their longing was to have such technical mastery, that it would be as easy for them to paint as it was to write to reflect their visions while they were still fresh.
And the truth is that his paintings are generally accompanied by some written lines of a poetic nature. Thus, his writing and his painting seek to express the enthusiasm of their creator after contemplating those natural enclaves, and he is not so concerned about making these views have a complete resemblance to the specific places.
The truth is that when you look at them carefully, they are images that above all transmit sensations, which is not an impediment to assessing the mastery of these artists.