Skip to main content Skip to main content

Art Through Time: A Global View

The Natural World Compare: How Can Art Help Us See the Spiritual in Nature?

Early Spring

Early Spring
Artist / Origin: Guo Xi (Kuo Hsi) (Chinese, ca. 1000–1090)
Region: East Asia
Date: 1072
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 62 ¼ in. (158.3 cm.), W: 42 5/8 in. (108.1 cm.)
Location: National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Credit: Courtesy of Lee & Lee Communications/Art Resource, NY

The Penitence of St. Jerome (triptych)

The Penitence of St. Jerome (triptych)
Artist / Origin: Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, d. 1524)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1518
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Oil on wood
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: (Central panel) H: 46 ¼ in. (117.5 cm.), W: 32 in. (81.3 cm.) (overall, with engaged frame); (Each wing) H: 47 ½ in. (120.7 cm.), W: 14 in. (35.6 cm.) (overall, with engaged frame)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund

How can art help us see the spiritual in nature?

The notion that the natural world is also a spiritual world finds expression in art across cultures throughout history. For the Confucian artist like Guo Xi, the landscape was a place of retreat, where the viewer could find spiritual solace and refreshment without compromising his civic responsibilities. For the Christian artist like Patinir, the landscape was largely symbolic—a representation of a world that simultaneously celebrated the God-created cosmos and offered a retreat from civilization, where a person might commune with the divine.

Questions to Consider

  • Mountains are central to both Guo Xi’s Early Spring and Patinir’s Penitence of St. Jerome. What symbolic meaning is tied to mountains for each of the artists? Do you think that there are features of the natural world that carry universal significance?
  • What is the relationship between the real landscape and the depicted landscape in each of these examples? What does your answer suggest about the goals of the artist in each case?
  • What role do figures play in each of these works? How do the figures mediate the experience of the viewer in each case?

Series Directory

Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2