Meng Zhao, Feb 10

Meng Zhao (PhD candidate, Department of Art History)

“Crafting Sensuality: Tactual Erotics In Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers

Discussant: Tingting Xu (Mellon Fellow at the Society of Fellows and the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University)

Wednesday, Feb 10
4:45-6:45 pm, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)



Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers, as one of the most exquisite examples of shinü hua (“paintings of elite women”), grants a glimpse of sheer sensuality of palace beauties in medieval China. The extraordinary limpidity of female imagery manifested in this work obscures intriguingly the question regarding the crafting and aestheticization of womanly beauty, which has curiously received little scholarly attention. This paper contextualizes the eighth-century praxis of painting court ladies through the lens of the coding of tactual experiences in medieval feminine space. I argue, in particular, that visual representations of skin contact, thermal sensation, and bodily awareness, evoke a vision-touch synesthetic experience that plays a constitutive role in the construction of sensuality and eroticism. This study also attempts to situate the sensitivity to tactile sensation within the literary tradition of erotic poetry of the Southern Dynasties (420-589) and Tang (618-907) periods.

Zoom Registration Link:

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Meng Zhao is a PhD candidate studying Chinese art with a focus on painting practice of the middle period (ca. 800-1400). Her doctoral dissertation, “Roaming, Listening, Gazing: Human Presence Onstage in Song-Yuan Landscape Art (960-1368),” investigates the related ways in which major landscapists from the end of the eleventh to the fourteenth century turned their attention to the portrayal of human presence and responded in various efforts to the psychological dimension of multi-layered figure-landscape relationship. She is also interested in pictorial representation of beautiful women and its relation to synesthesia and the mingling of senses, and the imagination and depiction of dreams in the mid- and late Ming Dynasty. Meng is currently a COSI Writing Fellow at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is researching for the AIC’s digital project on Chinese paintings.

Tingting Xu is a Mellon Fellow at the Society of Fellows and the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. She received her PhD in Art History from the University of Chicago in 2020. She has broad interests in trans-cultural and trans-medial art production in China from the early modern period onwards. She is currently working on a book manuscript on early Chinese photography and a paper on Gong Xian’s landscapes.

Yifan Zou

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