This subtle and intimate river panorama, like all handscroll paintings, is meant to be read from right to left. Accordingly, close inspection will lead the viewer from a pine shaded country villa with its inhabitants along twisted footpaths over footbridges to eventually focus one's attention on the serene, mist shrouded distant mountains. Typically, handscrolls were unrolled slowly and appreciated section-by-section by a limited audience, usually only one or two people.
Most of the motifs, formal conventions, and the overall aesthetic of this small scroll relate to Sung dynasty landscape paintings of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Considered one of China's great contributions to world art, Northern Sung (960-1127) landscapes achieved a degree of realism by the eleventh century that evolved into a more lyrical, impressionistic depiction of nature that typified the Southern Sung (1127-1229). This type of illusionistic painting persisted into the fourteenth century.