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hua n x iu sh a nz hua ng THE MOUNTAIN VILLA OF EMBRACING BEAUTY The rockery at the Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty is widely regarded as the finest in any Chinese garden. The rockery was built by Ge Yuliang (1764–1830), a master of the art of constructing artificial mountains during the reign of the emperor Qianlong. From the Lu Yuan Conghua (Miscellaneous Remarks on Lu Garden) by Qian Yun of the Qing Dynasty, we hear about the skill of Ge Yuliang: “Lately, there is a man named Ge Yuliang, a native of Changzhou, whose way of piling a rockery is even better than the others . . . and the rockery in front of the study in the home of Sun Guyuan (Sun Jun) is also piled under his direction.” It is rare that an individual attribution can be made for the design of a garden in Suzhou. Painting and calligraphy are almost always attributable, but the designers of gardens are seen more as skilled artisans and not as authors of works. The rockery in the Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty is a notable exception. A MOUNTAIN AT THE CENTER Unlike most Suzhou gardens, where water lies at the center, the Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty is centered on Ge’s rockery of porous white Tai Lake limestone with its concealed paths, ravines, bridges, and chambers. Limestone is a relatively soft rock which weathers and erodes into smooth 96 the gardens of suzhou shapes, and Ge exploits these karst characteristics by opening holes and cavities in the rockery. The rockery occupies a proportionately large area of this small garden—about 500 square meters of the total garden area of 2,200 square meters. Holes in the rockery appear as dark recesses from the terrace in front of the artificial mountain, but are sources of sharp southern light in the spaces within the rockery. Ge Yuliang states the objective of rockery construction: “Only when it is exactly the same as a real hill or cave can one say a good job has been done.” Other rockeries by Ge include one in Suzhou—the rockery in the One Pavilion Garden. Outside Suzhou, extant works attributed to Ge include the rockery at Yan Yuan in Changshu, Xiaopan Gu in Yangzhou, and Shuihui Yuan in Rugao. The spaciousness of the paths and chambers in the rockery distinguish it from others in Suzhou and elsewhere. Access to the rockery is often limited so, if allowed, explore these spaces by entering at the small bridge on the southwest corner. The path leading inside is a narrow shelf at the bot1 2 3 4 Figure 66. Plans of the Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty. The plan at left shows the chambers inside the rockery while the one at right shows the garden from above. 1. Rockery 3. Mountain Villa 2. Internal Chambers 4. Putting a Question to the Spring Pavilion the mountain villa of embracing beauty 97 tom of the steep face of the rockery which gives it a sense of being caught between the mountain and the stream. Two diagonal spaces intersect in the center of the rockery. One runs from the Housing the Mountain with a Half-Filled Pool in Autumn Hall in the northwest, along a creek, and upward to the southeast toward the most important specimen tree in the garden, an aged hackberry that casts a contorted shadow on the eastern enclosing wall of the garden. The other diagonal runs roughly southwest to northeast and connects the two internal chambers of the rockery via a stone bridge. In the reign of Qing emperor Qianlong, the garden was the residence of the scholar Shen Shixing. For two hundred years, the garden was owned, in succession, by Jiang Ji, Bi Yuan, and the scholar Sun Shiyi. The Wang family occupied the garden beginning in the reign of Qing emperor Daoguang (1841). Eight years later, in 1849, the Wang Ancestral Hall and the Figure 67. The rockery towers above the terrace in front of the four-sided hall. 98 the gardens of suzhou Villa for Cultivation were constructed. The East Garden was repaired and the main hall in the garden, located on the terrace south of the rockery, was named the Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty—the name which was soon applied to the entire garden. The garden was dilapidated by 1949 with only the rockery and Buqiu Fang, Replenishing Autumn Landboat, remaining among the original structures. The skillful construction of the rockery makes it unnecessary...


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