Meng Zhao, February 23

Meng Zhao (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History)

“Theatrical Beholding: Visualizing Gaze in the Southern Song Court Milieu (1127-1279)” 

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022 [Postponed]

4:45 – 6:45 pm CT,  Remotely via Zoom

Please use this link to register for the zoom meeting. The password to this zoom session is “103291



Ma Yuan 馬遠 (1160-1225), detail of “Spring Gazing from the High Terrace,” in Landscape Album Paired with Imperial Poetic Inscriptions 宋帝命题册, ca. 1194-1224. Set of ten pairs of album leaves; ink, color and gold on silk, 26.6×27.3 cm; anonymous collection, New York.


By the middle of the twelfth century, a narrowly focused vision characterized the Southern Song (1127-1279) landscape art. Instead of the timeless aspect of nature conveyed in earlier landscape paintings, an introspective sensibility is marked by the presence of a quietly contemplating figure within the intimate format of square album leaves and circular fan paintings. The aim of this chapter is to propose the art-historical conventions, aesthetic conditions, and socio-historical forces in relation to the Southern Song court milieu that allowed and shaped this dominant mode of visualizing gaze in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A specific group of paintings featuring a prominent gazing figure suggests a mode of what I call an “imperial gaze” and is foregrounded as a pivot around which an inclusive, plural understanding of these scenes is constructed. The key question is to what extent the Southern Song court art could have been shaped by a notion of “spectacle” that was founded not only on the representation of a beholding subject, but also on the necessity of envisioning the painting plane as a theatrical stage. The construction of this sort of theatrical spaces, in both a physical and mental sense, and the experience of situating oneself as beholder, were widely observed in various forms of imperial entertainments of the period.

Meng Zhao is a PhD candidate studying Chinese art with focuses on painting practices of the middle period (ca. 800-1400). Her doctoral dissertation, Roaming, Gazing, and Listening: Human Presence and Sensory Impression in Song Landscape Art (960-1279), investigates the related ways in which major landscapists from the end of the eleventh to the thirteenth century turned their attention to the portrayal of human presence and responded in various efforts to the psychosomatic dimension of multi-layered figure-landscape relationships. She is also interested in pictorializations of the medieval conception of female beauty and its relation to the mingling of senses, and the representation of dreams and visions in late imperial China. This year, her research is funded with a Chinese Studies Dissertation Fellowship from the Center for East Asian Studies at UChicago.


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