Lucien Sun, October 27th

Speaker: Lucien Sun (Ph.D. Student, Department of Art History)

Flipping Over and Stretching Out: Reading an Accordion-Fold Painting

Discussant: Shiqiu Liu (Ph.D. Candidate, University of Melbourne)

Wednesday, October 27th, 2021

5:45 – 7:45 pm CT, Remotely via Zoom

*Please use this link to register for the zoom meeting.


A new binding format—a long sheet of paper folded back and forth to formulate the shape of an accordion—emerged in China during the Tang–Song transition. Historians of book usually refer to it as jingzhe zhuang 經折裝. Few have considered, however, the specificity of this accordion-fold binding style as art medium, despite that many sutras contain a multi-page frontispiece illustration. This special format allows the viewer to flip over pages of picture like reading an illustrated bound book and meanwhile stretch out several consecutive pages, fold them, and proceed as if rolling a handscroll. In this paper, I will study a twelfth-century Buddhist painting attributed to the artist Zhang Shengwen 張勝溫 of the Dali Kingdom. My analysis of this painting concentrates on the complicated relations between the accordion-fold medium and the images it bears, a path that hardly anyone has taken before. The first six pages of the painting that depict the procession of the Dali emperor Zhixing and his entourage provide us with a starting point to formulate some structural principles that the artist followed when working on an accordion fold. Several symmetrical scenes of different scale in this painting further demonstrate how the artist reconciled the conflict between the desired iconic composition and the material circumstances of this format. Through a close reading of this painting, I intend to come up with a preliminary set of features that characterize the incredible flexibility of this popular East Asian art medium in relation to the artist, the viewer and the images it bears.


Zhang Shengwen. Dali Emperor Duan Zhixing and his entourage worshipping the Buddha. Pages 1–6. 1173–1176 CE. Each page H. 30.4 cm x W. 12 cm. Color on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei.


Lucien Sun  is a PhD student in in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Fudan University, Shanghai. He also spent a year at the University of Tokyo studying Japanese collections of Chinese and East Asian art. He is currently interested in how picture in its broad sense moved across space, borders, and visual media in north China between the eleventh to the fourteenth century.


Shiqiu Liu is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne and holds a MA from the University of St Andrews. Her current research is on art works produced under the cultural exchanges stimulated by the Mongol rule of Eurasia in the fourteenth century, focusing especially on works made by professional artisans for those ethnically non-Chinese in Yuan China. She is interested in pre-modern artistic exchanges through cultural communications between China and areas around East and Central Asia.

Sylvia Fan Wu, October 13

Speaker: Sylvia Fan Wu (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History)

“Inscribing Piety: Monumental Inscriptions from Quanzhou”

Discussant: Wei-cheng Lin (Associate Professor of Art History and the College, Department of Art History)

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

4:45 – 6:45 pm CST, Hybrid (In-person in CWAC 152 + Zoom)

*If you would like to attend in-person, please use this form to sign-up; If you would like to attend remotely, you may register here to receive the zoom link. 

*Based on the university policy on COVID, we will only be able to allow maximum 25 people inside the venue, and mask will be required throughout the event. 


Quanzhou’s Ashab Mosque has often been discussed for its foreign-looking architectural forms and the material choice of stone. Few have contemplated the Quranic verses that were carved onto both the interior and exterior walls of the mosque complex. These monumental inscriptions constitute the majority of the sober decorative program in this Muslim sanctuary and are imbued with iconographic meanings that speak to piety. This paper examines the inscriptions found in the Ashab Mosque and around the city of Quanzhou and explores the pious messaging behind their formal, iconographic and material qualities.


The Ashab Mosque, qibla wall, 14th or 16th century, Quanzhou, China (Credit: Cherie Wendelken)


Sylvia Wu is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. She studies the architecture and material culture of medieval Indian Ocean with a particular focus on China’s coastal areas. Her dissertation, Mosques of Elsewhere, examines how knowledge of legendary monuments of the Islamic world had informed the blueprints of mosque building in China’s southeastern ports, or rather distracted us from recognizing the mosques’ local attributions.

Wei-Cheng Lin is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He specializes in the history of Chinese art and architecture with a focus on medieval periods. His primary interests of research are visual and material cultural issues in Buddhist art and architecture and China’s funerary practice through history. He is the author of Building a Sacred Mountain: The Buddhist Architecture of China’s Mount Wutai, published by the University of Washington Press in 2014. He has additionally published on a variety of topics, including collecting history, photography and architecture, historiography of Chinese architectural history, and contemporary Chinese art.

Sooa Im McCormick, June 2

Speaker: Sooa Im McCormick (Curator of Korean Art, Cleveland Museum)

Korean Paper, a Trendy Item in Late Ming Literati Circle

Discussant: Yoon-Jee Choi (PhD student, Department of Art History)

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021
4:45 – 6:45 pm CST, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)



Any wars result in, not to mention significant loss of life, economic destruction, and human dislocation, but also opportunities for unexpected cultural and material transfers. Korean papers of variety including Mirror Surface Paper 鏡面紙, White Silky Paper 白綿紙 were among stable tributary gifts to the Ming imperial court, but during the Japanese invasion (1592-1598) they were increasingly demanded than before. These imported Korean papers were not exclusively used in the imperial court, but soon gained a new life as a trendy commodity when it entered the circle of leading literati artists such as Dong Qichang.

By locating Korean paper in the material world of late Ming-period literati artists, this research attempts to uncover how gift-exchange in a tributary system between China and Korea fashioned new artistic identities of Korean paper, to examine what materialistic features of Korean paper led late Ming artists to involve it in their artistic endeavors, such as the case of Dong Qichang’s River and Mountains on a Clear Autumn Day 江山秋霽圖 in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and finally to highlight the role of Korean imports in Chinese visual and material culture.
Dong Qichang 董其昌, River and Mountains on a Clear Autumn Day 江山秋霽圖 (1624–27), Handscroll: Ink on Korean paper, Painting only: 38.4 x 136.8 cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art.


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Dr. Sooa Im McCormick is Curator of Korean Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. She holds a PhD from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree from Rutgers University. Recently, she curated the exhibitions Interpretation of Materiality: Gold (4/30/2021-10/24/2021), as well as Gold Needles: Korean Embroidery Arts (3/8/2020-10/25/2020). While pursuing her curatorial career, Dr. McCormick remains active as a cutting-edge scholar. Her publications include “Re-Reading the Imagery of Tilling and Weaving of Eighteenth-Century Korean Genre Painting in the Context of the Little Ice Age,” in Anthology of Mountains and Rivers (without) End: Eco-Art History in Asia (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019) and “The Politics of Frugality: Environmental Crisis and Eighteenth-Century Korean Visual Culture,” in Forces of Nature (Cornell University Press, 2022).


Yoon-Jee Choi is a PhD student whose research revolves around material culture and inter-regional influence within East Asian art history, particularly concentrating on the latter half of Joseon Dynasty and modern Korean art history. She received her BA in Division of International Studies and History of Art from Ewha Womans University. She has completed her coursework for her MA in History of Art and is currently working on her thesis on Korean monkey paintings during the late Joseon Dynasty. She has interned for the National Museum of Korea and worked as a research assistant for the Asian Museum Institute in Seoul. Her current interests lie in Korean paintings that reflect diverse foreign interactions during the late 19th century.

Wang Lianming, May 7

Speaker: Wang Lianming (Assistant Professor of Chinese Art History, Heidelberg University)

Revisiting the Jesuit Gardens in Eighteenth-Century Beijing

Discussant: Yin Wu (PhD candidate, Art History, The University of Chicago)

May 7th (Friday), 2021

12-2pm CDT, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)


In the early modern world, the Jesuit gardens arguably became a transcultural phenomenon mate-rializing the transfer of elite knowledge, culture, and ideas. Drawing on a variety of recently un-covered materials from Paris and St. Petersburg, this talk discusses the crucial role of the Beijing Jesuit gardens played in the early-modern dynamics of botanical and horticultural practices. This is achieved by examining their functions as walk-in spaces of transcultural experience, experi-mental spaces of artistic entanglements, and places of fruitful encounters of knowledge. These garden sites, as I will argue, were the missing link between European Renaissance culture and knowledge, Qing court art, and collecting practices of the European Jesuit patrons.

The panoramic view of the Jesuit Beitang residence and its garden space, color on paper, ca. 1830/31. St. Petersburg, Kunstkamera – Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, inventory number 667-261.


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Wang Lianming is an Assistant Professor of Chinese Art History at Heidelberg University. His areas of research include early-modern global encounters of arts and culture and artistic practices and materiality related to transterritorial animals. Wang has taught at the University of Würzburg and was a Postdoc Fellow (2018/19) of the research group “Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices” at the Berlin-based Forum Transregional Studies, led by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max Planck Society. Wang has organized many workshops and conferences related to Sino-European exchanges, including The Jesuit Legacies: Images, Visuality, and Cosmopolitanism in Qing China (chief organizer, 2015), Reframing Chinese Objects: Practices of Collecting and Displaying in Europe and the Islamic World, 1400-1800 (co-organizer, 2018), and Before the Silk Road: Eurasian Interactions in the First Millennium BC (chief-organizer, 2019). He was awarded the Klaus-Georg and Sigrid Hengstberger Prize by the Heidelberg University in 2018, and the Academy Prize by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 2021.


Yin Wu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History. Her research focuses on the cross-cultural exchange of objects between China and the West at the Qianlong Emperor’s court in the 18th century, exploring how the Western objects were transformed into new visual and material forms and create new political and cultural meanings in the Qing empire.



Zhenru Zhou, Apr 21st

The VMPEA Workshop is pleased to welcome Zhenru Zhou (PhD candidate, Art History) as our next speaker to share her project “Anarchitectonic pagoda images from late-medieval Dunhuang.” We are also very happy to have Dr. Katherine Tsiang (Associate Director, Center for the Art of East Asia) serving as the discussant.

Please watch the Panopto Presentation in advance to join the Zoom session:


Please note this VMPEA session will take a slightly different format and start at a different time:

Wednesday, Apr 21st, 2021

5:30-6:45 pm CDT,

Zoom session for response and questions only (please find the registration link below)


Among the numerous portable artifacts found at the Dunhuang Caves, some are particularly indicative of the production of the unportable art and architecture, namely, the decorated Buddhist cave-temple. While the Dunhuang artists’ sketches and stencils in general have been associated with figural representations as seen in wall paintings and mandalic designs for ceilings or altars, it remains understudied how the cave architecture has been designed, conceptualized, and implemented. In response to the question, this paper explores a curious design trend of de-emphasizing the architectonic construct of an architectural space, which is evident in portable paintings, reliquaries, mural paintings and repaintings, caves, and even cave groups in late-medieval Dunhuang. In particular, the paper juxtaposes a few little-studied drawings originally deposited in the Dunhuang Library Cave with the repainted murals that later concealed the cave to unveil the dialectic relationship between image-making and cave-making. In addition, the study of cross-media artistic practices at Dunhuang will shed new light on a paradigm shift in visualizing the Buddhist Pure Lands in northwest China of the 10-11th centuries.

Picture of Many Sons Pagoda, ink on paper, 41.6 x 28 cm, 9th-10th century CE. Deposited in Mogao Cave 17, Dunhuang, China, now in the National Museum, New Delhi, India.

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Zhenru Zhou studies Buddhist art and architecture in China and along the Silk Roads, with a focus on cave-temples in Northwest China. She received an M. Arch degree from Princeton University in 2016, and another M. Arch and a B. Arch degree from Tsinghua University (China). Her dissertation project, titled “Between the Virtual and the Real: A New Architecture of the Mogao Caves (Dunhuang, China) in 781-1036 CE,” explores the complexity of cave architecture regarding its hybrid materiality and visuality, construction and reconstruction over time.

Katherine R. Tsiang is a scholar of Chinese art of the Medieval Period, a period of extensive multicultural interaction during which the northern part of China was controlled predominantly by non-Han Chinese rulers and Buddhism, initially introduced from India and Central Asia, became the predominant religion. Her recent research has focused on the art and visual culture of Chinese tombs and Buddhist cave shrines and deals with the transformative impact of multicultural, social, religious, and funerary ideologies on artistic production of the fifth through eighth centuries.

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.

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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.

Cybele Tom, Jan 27

Cybele Tom (PhD student, Department of Art History)

Seeking Balance: Material and Meaning in a Polychrome Guanyin

Discussant: Alice Casalini (PhD student, Department of Art History)

Wednesday, Jan 27

 4:45-6:45 pm, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link and pre-circulated paper below)



How do we approach objects that are so materially disrupted from their past identities that crucial aspects of their appearance are undefined? A large polychrome wood sculpture of the bodhisattva Guanyin, in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, provides a rich case study for exploring this question from the perspective of conservation and science. The focus of a recent in-depth technical investigation and major restoration treatment, the sculpture was revealed to be a palimpsest of several distinct campaigns of surface decoration, the earliest likely dating back to the 11th or 12th century. This presentation reflects on the sculpture’s complex and severely compromised materiality. The technical findings are summarized as a means to elucidate the contingent nature of its authentic or ”true” appearance(s) and to lay the foundation for a discussion of the challenges of its interpretation. When an object’s material instability undermines its identity and intentionality, the conservator charged with its care faces uncomfortable decisions which, though based on a paradigm of aesthetics, visual coherence, and professional ethics, have potentially profound consequences for its meaning and the kinds of evidence it bears.

The presentation is based on the circulated paper co-authored by AIC scientists Clara Granzotto and Ken Sutherland, and which is currently under consideration at the Art Institute Review. The debut issue will thematize the notion of instability in works of art and the museum world more generally. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope for a lively discussion. In particular, we look forward to your perspectives from within the discipline of art history. Beyond the issues raised in the paper and presentation, broader questions you might consider are: what is authentic for historical objects that are materially compromised? How does the (at times) constructed legibility of museum objects complicate your study of them? How are the material findings as presented here, for example, applicable (and not) to your research questions? How can conservation and art history work more closely?

Pre-circulated paper:


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Cybele Tom is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Art History and Assistant Conservator of Objects at the Art Institute of Chicago. More accustomed to working within a framework of categorization based on material characteristics rather than time period or culture, she has research interests spanning centuries and continents. She has an Advanced Certificate and MA from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (JAIC).


Alice Casalini received her BA and MA in Language and Civilisation of Asia and Mediterranean Africa from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. During her MA, she spent a total of four terms as an exchange student at the department of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University, where she specialized in Buddhist archaeology of Xinjiang. Her MA thesis focused on the Buddhist caves of the kingdom of Kucha. Her current interests lie in early Buddhist art and architecture of Gandhāra and Northern India.


Visiting Scholar Special Workshop: Dong Rui

Dong Rui. PhD., Visiting Scholar, Department of Art History, University of Chicago; Associate Professor, School of Fine Arts, Henan University


Nostalgia for Inner Asia: Form and Idea in the Portrait of the Filial Grandson Yuan Gu on Stone Funerary Couch from the Eastern Wei Dynasty (548 CE)


Discussant: Lin Wei-Cheng, Associate Professor, Department of Art History, University of Chicago

Friday, Nov 13th, 2020
5-7 pm, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)
This talk will be delivered in Chinese

Abstract: This study focuses on two illustrations of filial grandson Yuan Gu story from an Eastern Wei stone screen attached to a stone funerary couch. This stone funerary couch was excavated in 2007 from Tomb M57 (548 CE) in Anyang, Henan Province. Notably, one illustration of filial grandson Yuan Gu departed from its iconographic convention but presented the theme with Yuan Gu’s parents carrying an empty stretcher, with a standing female figure on the side. A closer examination of this unique illustration of the “filial grandson Yuan Gu” theme will shed light on a more nuanced understanding of Northern Wei rulers’ promotion of Confucianism and their attachment to Inner Asian traditions.

摘要:2007年,在河南省安阳发掘了一座东魏时期的(公元548年)夫妇合葬墓M57, 出土文物中包含了一座刻有二幅孝孙原榖等12幅画像的围屏石棺床。尤为特别的是,其中一幅孝孙原榖画像中,原榖父母所抬的是一副无人的担架,但在担架旁边站立着一女性,这种形式是目前所见孝孙原榖画像中的孤例。该画像从一个侧面反映了北魏统治者在入主中原后对儒家文化的有限接受和对内亚传统文化的留恋。这一实物或许可以从一个新的侧面折射出鲜卑大力推行汉化,却最终还是失败的原因。



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Dong Rui received his PhD from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2013. From 2005 to 2013, he worked in the office of South–North Water Transfer Project of Henan Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau. In 2013 he starts to work at Henan University in the School of Fine Art as an associate professor, and is currently a visiting scholar with the University of Chicago. His publications appear in a number of journals including Journal of Zhengzhou University, Art History Research, and Huaxia Archaeology. Hs is also the author of The Research of Hollow brick tombs in Han dynasty 汉代空心砖墓研究 (2019).

Wei-Cheng Lin is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. Lin specializes in the history of Chinese art and architecture, with a focus on medieval period, and has published on both Buddhist and funeral art and architecture of medieval China. His first book, Building a Sacred Mountain: Buddhist Architecture of China’s Mount Wutai, was published in 2014 with the University of Washington Press. He has also written on topics related to traditional architecture in modern China. Lin is currently working on two book projects: Performative Architecture of China, explores architecture’s performative potential through history and the meanings enacted through such architectural performance. Necessarily Incomplete: Fragments of Chinese Artifacts investigate fragments of Chinese artifacts, as well as the cultural practices they solicited and engaged, to locate their agentic power in generating the multivalent significance of those artifacts, otherwise undetectable or overlooked.

Dorothy C. Wong, NOV 6

Speaker: Dorothy C. Wong (Professor, Mcintire Department of Art, University of Virginia)

“Colossal Buddha Statues in China, Past and Present”

Discussant: Jiayi Zhu (PhD student, EALC, University of Chicago)

Friday, Nov 6, 2020
4:45-6:45 pm, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)

Beginning in the northwestern region of India, and spreading through Central Asia and the rest of Asia along the Silk Road, the making of colossal Buddha statues has been a major theme in Buddhist art. The colossal Buddha statues predominantly feature Śākyamuni (the Historical Buddha), Maitreya (the Future Buddha), and Vairocana (the Transcendant Buddha), and they were fashioned out of religious devotion and frequently in conjunction with notions of Buddhist kingship. This paper examines the religious, social and political circumstances under which these colossal statues were made, primarily focusing on examples in China made during the first millennium CE. Beginning in the 1990s, there was a revival of making colossal Buddha statues across China and elsewhere. The second part of the paper attempts to address the contemporary phenomenon in China in relation to issues surrounding cultural heritage, religious and cultural identity, ownership, commodification, pilgrimage, and tourism.

Tzu Shan Monastery, Tai Po District, Hong Kong.

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Dorothy Wong is currently Professor of Art and Director of the East Asia Center at the University of Virginia. Specializing in Buddhist art of medieval China, Dorothy Wong’s research addresses topics of art in relation to religion and society, and of the relationship between religious texts/doctrine and visual representations. In addition to many articles, she has published Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form (2004; Chinese edition 2011), Hōryūji Reconsidered (editor and contributing author, 2008) China and Beyond in the Medieaval Period: Cultural Crossings and Inter-regional Connections (co-editor with Gustav Heldt, and contributing author, 2014), and Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645–770 (2018). Her edited volume, Miraculous Images in Asian Traditions, will be published as volume 50 of the journal Ars Orientalis in late November of 2020.

Jiayi Zhu is a PhD student in East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Her research interest is medieval Buddhist art and the cultural exchanges among China, Japan and Korea. Currently she is curious about the medium of stone.