Chinese Mountains of Immortality: A Focused Look

This three-object installation examined Chinese images of mountains by placing an ancient (2nd–1st century B.C.), peak-shaped incense burner next to two later paintings of mountains, one dated to 1683. The key to the persistence of mountain imagery in China is its association with islands of the immortals. Said to be located in the eastern sea, these mountainous islands were thought, since the time of the First Emperor of Qin (221–210 B.C.) to be a source of immortality and in later centuries became a metaphor for the source of eternal happiness. Introduced in the 2nd century B.C. incense burners in the shape of mountains were highly valued by the society’s elite. As the incense was burned, smoke would rise out of the holes in the lid like mist over mysterious mountain terrain. The paintings similarly depict the peaks shrouded in enigmatic clouds.