Miniature Mountains: Landscape Constructions in German Handstein and Chinese penjing

Anna Grasskamp

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract


Many early modern Handstein, hand-sized rocks sourced from local mines that became part of courtly collections, were decorated to represent miniature landscapes. Some of them include fragments of maritime material culture such as corals and shells. Equally, numerous Chinese miniature landscapes (penjing) employ natural rocks as miniature mountains and corals as trees. Early modern texts from both cultures present the ocean as treasury and counterpart to mines and subterranean spaces full of riches, the diving for maritime goods finds terminological and conceptual equivalences in descriptions of digging. Based on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artifacts, collection inventories and texts that address aspects of oceanic and subterranean exploitation this paper explores the connections between ocean objects and mined minerals, (under)waterscapes and mountainous sites from a transcultural perspective. It compares the cosmological ideas and material constituents that underlie Handstein and penjing constructions to discuss potential connections between both with a focus on the use of stones as mountains and coral pieces as trees. In early modern Chinese and European records the spaces where pearls, corals and shells originate blur distinctions between real and imagined topographies, territories of foreign tribute givers on the one hand and mythological realms of sacred sea creatures on the other, including the Dragon King’s and Poseidon’s underwater palaces, the Daoist island Penglai and the affluent spaces of Ovid’s Ethiopia. This allows for an understanding of miniature landscapes that employ maritime material culture as mythological and real, oceanic and terrestrial.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2020
EventImage and Ascent: Mountain Terrains in the History of Art - Virtual
Duration: 14 Sept 202017 Sept 2020


ConferenceImage and Ascent
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Miniature Mountains: Landscape Constructions in German Handstein and Chinese penjing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this