May 27, Irene Backus

Irene Backus

Ph.D. Candidate, Art History Department
University of Chicago

Friday, May 27, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156

Asia Materialized: Perceptions of China in Renaissance Florence


Asia Materialized:  Perceptions of China in Renaissance Florence,” examines how three of the most highly valued Chinese imports—porcelain, refined silk textiles, and spices—shaped Italian Renaissance artistic and technological creation under the early Medici Dukes (c. 1537–87).  Because direct, personal connections between China and Italy were extremely limited during this period, these imports acted as ‘ambassadors,’ the tangible evidence Florentines had of a place they otherwise only knew from travel narratives such as Marco Polo’s.

My VMPEA presentation will offer a brief overview of the larger project, and a more focused discussion of my most recent work on the silk chapter.  It has become axiomatic that silk was among the most important Chinese imports in Europe, across the ages; however, this assumption is rarely interrogated or elaborated beyond the most general statement, or allusion to the “silk road.” Today’s discussion will press the question by analyzing silk from the perspective of its production, representation, and finally its actual use in sixteenth century Florence.

May 20, Fu Yanghua

Fu Yanghua

Associate Professor, School of Arts
Renmin University

Friday, May 20, 4:00- 6:00 pm
Location: CWAC 156

Trapped Hope: Yang Bu’s Ten-Leaf Album of Yearning Ancient Sages and His Ambivalence


Yang Bu(杨补) (1598-1657) was a renowned poet and painter in the 17th century. He lived through a difficult period for many Confucian scholar painters from late Ming’s corruption to the Ming-Qing dynastic transition. Despite of his well-known talents in literature, poems and paintings in Beijing and Suzhou, he did not want to become an official in the late Ming Dynasty. His friend circle involved famous official and painter Dong Qichang, Chen Jiru and many government important officials in the late Ming. In 1648, after a few years of Beijing’s falling to rebels and the Chongzhen emperor hanged himself on Coal Hill, he took his son Yang Zhao(杨照) to live a seclusive life in the FanJing Caotang thatched house and started his nine-year remnant’s life.

The ten-leaf album of Yearning for Ancient Sages ( Huai Gu Tu Yong ce, 怀古图咏册) at the Shanghai Museum was painted in 1648 when YangBu began his eremitic life. The ten leaves of paintings in the album traced ten historical stories that chosen from the formal historic books, which are linked to the eremitic life of the ancient sages. Those titles are1、(Boyi and Shuqi) picking osmund  采薇2、(Ju and Ni) plough farmland耦耕 3、(Shaoping) planting melon 种瓜 4、( Four old men in Shang Mountain)pick ganoderma lucidum采芝 5、(Shenshupan) living in the room around by trees 因树为屋 6、(Yuanhong) living in mud hut ( tu shi 土室) 7 (Guanning) offering well water 化汲 8 (Jiaoxian) Sleeping in the snow 卧雪9、(Tao Yuanming) Picking chrysanthemum 采菊10 (Zheng sixiao) Benxue world本穴世界.This article focuses on the iconography of the ten paintings as well as the painter’s self-image, and analyzes Yang Bu’s ambivalence between desire and despair at the initial stage as a remnant.

May 5, Shih-Shan Susan Huang

Shih-Shan Susan Huang

Assistant Professor, Art History Department
Rice University

Thursday, May 5, 4:30- 6:30 pm
Location: CWAC 152

True Form Charts and the Daoist Visuality

Daoist visuality is unique in its notion of zhenxing 真形or “true form,” a term coined by medieval Daoists and documented throughout numerous texts of that time. Broadly speaking, “true form” can apply to a deity, an icon, a purified self, a talisman, or a picture. It denotes the original shape something has as part of Dao, the inherent potency as expressed in physical form, perfect form, etc. In many cases, the “true form” is associated with the inner, invisible, and formless quality of an entity, contrary to the outer, the visible, and the concrete. With a framework thus established, seeing the “true form” requires religious discipline and practice. Daoists advocate rigorous meditation and visualization as the most efficient way to see the “true form.” More specifically, Daoists frequently use a visual symbol known as the true form chart (zhenxing tu真形圖) newly fashioned in medieval Daoism. Classified as Numinous Charts in the Daozang, these charts refer to aniconic diagrams of mountain-inspired paradises, sacred sites, and hells. Two are of particular importance, and will be the focus of this presentation: Renniao shan zhenxing tu 人鳥山真形圖 (True Form Chart of the Man-Bird Mountain) and Wuyue zhenxing tu 五嶽真形圖 (True Form Chart of the Five Sacred Peaks).

This talk will explore the symbolic dimension of these true form charts associated with earthly paradises. They highlight the unique Daoist notion of the “true form,” a superior body attained through meditation or spiritual revelation. Their aniconic visual quality is essential to Daoist realization, aiming at perfecting the individual through uniting with an agent perceived as absolute–the Dao. While uniquely Daoist, their puzzling configurations relate to those found in cartography, Feng Shui, calligraphy, talismans, and herbal medicine. The visuality of the True Form Diagrams of Mountains exhibits a grotto heaven with Daoist signs. Because the true form charts are part of Daoist esoteric teachings, their makers intentionally made them difficult to comprehend for ordinary people, yet decipherable for trained adepts. This exclusive context then led to the birth of the unique visuality of Daoist mysticism: esoteric, hybrid, and aniconic.

* This talk is sponsored by the Council for Advanced Studies and Confucius Institute at the University of Chicago

April 22, Xu Jin

Xu Jin

Ph.D. student, Art History Department
University of Chicago

Friday, April 22, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156

Displaying Filial Piety: Spatial Design of a Sodgian Immigrant Tomb in Sixth-century China


With a unique bilingual inscription and an intricate pictorial program, Lord Shi’s house-shaped sarcophagus has received increasing attention from historians, linguists, art historians, and scholars of religious studies since its excavation. Until now, academic attention has largely focused on the historical information and the iconographical interpretation of the inscription and the images carved on the sarcophagus. Scholars have focused on Lord Shi’s Sogdian background as well as his exceptional career as a sabao, or chieftain of commercial caravans. They are fascinated by the exotic religious or artistic elements of the sarcophagus, debating the source and meaning of the images in relation to similar structures owned by Sogdian immigrants. There are also a few scholars who have tried to interpret the sarcophagus from the perspective of sinification, primarily based on its Chinese-style appearance and the conventional mortuary construction. By treating the sarcophagus as an independent structure detached from its burial context, however, these scholars fail to fully address the significance of Lord Shi’s sarcophagus against the larger backdrop of funerary practices in early medieval China.

This paper addresses the spatial design of Lord Shi’s tomb, treating the tomb construction as a complex project which includes not only the entombment of the sarcophagus within the underground tomb chamber, but also the selection and arrangement of different funerary devices in the tomb and the graveyard as an organic whole. Taking the Chinese inscription as its starting point, the paper demonstrates that Lord Shi’s house-shaped sarcophagus was intended as a hybrid structure which functioned both as a coffin and an offering shrine. In light of the fact that the sarcophagus was surrounded by an empty space within the tomb chamber and was paired with a bei stele on the graveyard path, the paper then argues that the sacrificial space of Lord Shi’s tomb imitated the typical graveyard plan of the Eastern Han dynasty(25-220 A.D.  Such imitation was realized in a very unique way, because it collapsed the division between the sphere of the dead and the domain of the living, which served as a crucial principle of conventional tomb constructions during the Sixth century. This paper proposes that this innovation of the tomb space reflects the desire of Lord Shi’s sons to display filial piety.

April 15, Xu Xiwen

Xu Xiwen

Associate Professor, Southeast University, China
Visiting scholar, University of Chicago

Friday, April 15, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156

Beyond Borders: On the hanging scroll Lady Wen-Chi Returning to China attributed to Chen Juzhong at the National Palace Museum of Taipei


Lady Wen-chi story has been a popular subject in painting and poetry, reflecting the relationship between China and its neighboring tribes. The text of Lady Wen-Chi’s story has two versions: one was allegedly written by Lady Wen-Chi herself, also known as Eighteen Songs of Nomad Flute, and the other wss written by the poet Liu Shang. The hanging scroll Lady of Wen-chi Returning to China at the National Palace Museum in Taipei is based on Liu Shang’s poem. Many scholars have had different opinions regarding its dating and interpretation. Some argue that like the album of Eighteen Songs of Nomad Flute at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, this hanging scroll expressed the same political propaganda of the early Sothern Song dynasty, while the others claim that its dating should be around the end of Northern Song, reflecting the imagination of foreign tribes in the society. This paper reexamines the painting based on archeological findings and stylistic analysis and argues that this hanging scroll should be dated at the end of Southern Song dynasty (1208-1216), when the society was affected by thoughts of Confucianism, and fascinated with the exotic customs of northern countries; meanwhile the imperial authority tried to re-build a peaceful and equal diplomatic relationship with the northern countries.

* This talk will be given in Chinese.

April 8, Li Qingquan

Li Qingquan

Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
Visiting scholar, Harvard University

Friday, April 8, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156

The Image of Tomb Masters and the Transformation of Funerary Culture from Tang to Song dynaties


Until the Tang dynasty, tomb masters were a popular image in tomb mural paintings. During the Tang, it nearly disappeared as an image, but it reappeared in the Five Dynasties in the form of sculpture, instead of mural painting. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, this subject underwent another transformation. The image of tomb masters became a couple, drinking and sitting face to face, and this motif became the most fundamental and central subject in tombs. Furthermore, the couple’s image took the form of bas relief, being colored and integrated into the entire tomb architecture as a unity. This talk takes an art historical approach to explore the transformation of tomb masters’ imagery in relationship to the funerary culture from the Five dynasties to the Song dynasty.

* This talk will be given in Chinese.

Mar 11, Shi Jie

Shi Jie

Ph.D. Candidate, Art History
University of Chicago

Friday, March 11, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156

The Body Beyond Flesh and Bone: Unpacking the Body Construction in Western Han Princely Tombs


Focusing on the issue of the “deceased subject” in Western Han princely tombs, this paper asks how this subject was constructed by visual and material means and for what purpose. The treatment and placement of the body which occupied the center of the tomb space serves as the starting-point for the inquiry and exploration. Based on archaeological materials, this paper argues that the strategies of showing the buried subject varied in different spaces across the tomb including the inner coffin, the outer coffin, the rear chamber, and the front chamber, and all these different strategies worked together to rebuild an embodied postmortem being.

Feb 25, James Elkins

James Elkins

Associate Professor, Department of Art history, Theory, and Criticism
Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, February 25, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156

Five Forms of Misunderstanding Regarding Contemporary Art Criticism and Theory:
Observations on the Contemporary Study of Chinese Art


This is going to be a very informal talk, more like a sketch for a conversation. I’ll be reporting on three things: (1) the discontinuities and misunderstandings that emerged in two Beijing contemporary art conferences, as signs of the difference between the homogeneous or fluid cross-cultural understanding often posited in the art world, and the sometimes large gulfs of knowledge, purpose, context, and understanding that obtain at the level of scholarly and critical discourse in the arts; (2) my purpose, and some of my justification, for the book
“Chinese Landscape Painting as Western Art History”; and (3) the current state of theorizing “global art history,” including the book “Art and Globalization” and recent theorizing by Keith Moxey and Whitney Davis. The “five forms” follow mainly from the first and second of these.

* This event is co-sponsored with the Contemporary Art and Its Histories Workshop.

Feb 11, Ankeney Weitz

Ankeney Weitz
Associate Professor, Art and East Asian Studies
Colby College, Maine

Friday, February 11,  4-6 pm
CWAC 156

A Social History of Painted Fans in the Song Dynasty


Across the Song empire, people of all ages, genders, and ranks carried fans emblazoned with decorative designs appropriate to their status and expressive of their individual style. Much art-historical writing on round Song “album leaves” treats these objects primarily as paintings; however, this paper views the painted fan as an item of daily use. By studying the fans’ production, decoration, use, and exchange, we can better appreciate the gender and class meanings encoded in the pictorial decoration. The paper begins with a figurative removal of the paintings’ current mounts in an attempt to imagine the painting floating in the hand.

Jan 21, Andrew Shih-ming Pai

Andrew Shih-ming Pai
Associate Professor, National Taiwan Normal University
Friday, January 21, 4- 6 pm
CWAC 156
Modernity in Agony: Contemporaneity and the Representation of Modern Life in Colonial Taiwanese Art


Since the Japanese took power in Taiwan, the colonial government initiated “modernization” programs systematically and carried out political, economic, cultural and educational reforms through modern Western institutions. Taiwan, as a result, gradually departed from traditional folk society and became a modern civil society. Amidst such epochal transformation, with the implementation of modern urban planning, a “new landscape” was formed: like fresh shoots budding after rain, public facilities such as Western buildings, roads, parks, railways, bridges, harbors, airports and telecommunications steadily emerged. The traditional scenery of the Ming and Qing comprising of “local” characteristics metamorphosed, while “public” characteristics of the urban living space were constructed, expressing the diverse and modern lifestyles of the populace.

The government-sponsored Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibitions in 1927 and, later, the Taiwan Governor-General Arts Exhibition exerted unequivocal influence on the formation of New Art as part of the modernization process in Taiwan. The artists, however, in their so-called pursuit and construction of Taiwan’s “local color” also committed themselves to exploring the various possibilities of representing Taiwan. Interestingly, in doing so, they produced a number of exhilarating works of art based on the theme of “contemporary scenery”. These works of art not only became quintessential renderings of landscapes imbued with contemporary significance, they also clearly revealed the colonial government’s motive to build a new urban vista and public space through their policy of modernization.

These images reflecting and representing the “new landscape” that resulted from processes of modernization are the most important visual materials to our investigation of the substance and meaning of Taiwan’s modern, urban, scientific and civilized way of life and public cultural development. Many modern artists in Taiwan participated in urban public life and experienced shifts in their observations of landscapes and in their perspectives in literary expression as a result of having adopted a modernized civic identity. They thereby provided possible models for viewing contemporary landscapes and facilitated the completion of the conceptual construction of Taiwan’s modern urban landscapes. It is within this context that this paper, by focusing on how modern artists in Taiwan explored and illustrated ways of the reading, thinking and writing the modern Taiwanese landscape, seeks to rethink the meanings and problems of modernization as seen in the “landscape compositions” created under Japanese colonial rule.