AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 373

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Session 373: Shaped Images: Social and Artistic Responses to Pictorial Formats in Chinese Painting

Organizer: Ellen Johnston Laing, University of Michigan, USA

Discussant: Richard E. Vinograd, Stanford University, USA

Images have been painted on various formats in China, including handscroll, hanging scroll, fan, album, etc. When studying Chinese painting, modern art historians tend to focus on the images, while treating different pictorial formats indiscriminately. Much information, however, can be lost in this process. This panel examines the long neglected relationship between image and format. Laing’s paper shows that an analysis of representative examples of depictions of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove reveals that artists and artisans made adjustments in figure groupings or setting to accommodate, for example, the handscroll and the folding fan formats, as well as the curving contours of ceramic vessels, to visually enhance their depictions. Based on her observation that shinü tu, image of beautiful/refined women, were almost exclusively painted on round fans in the Song dynasty, Liu argues that the connection between shinü tu and the round fan painting format is directly associated with the newly questioned consumption of female images by Song male scholars. Cheng’s paper examines artists’ responses to pictorial formats by focusing on the thematic and artistic connections revealed in a variety of representations of “Peach Blossom Spring,” a classic story from Chinese literature that became a popular painting theme in the late imperial period. Focusing on artists active in the seventeenth-century Nanjing, Seiffert considers how the smaller dimensions of the album format affected landscape representation, as well as how the linking together of a series of images offered new modes for depicting both local topography and the history of painting in China.

Artistic Sensitivity to Formats as Revealed in Depictions of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove
Ellen Johnston Laing, University of Michigan, USA

The famous Jin dynasty (265-316) “Neo-Daoist” recluse poets, musicians, and writers known as the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove was a popular subject for tomb decoration, later paintings, and the decorative arts. Because no narrative is associated with the septet, artists were free to arrange their own groupings and placement of the seven. An analysis of representative examples of this figure theme reveals that artists and artisans were sensitive to format shapes and made adjustments in figure groupings or settings to accommodate the format or used the format to visually enhance their depiction. For example, in a folding fan painting, Qiu Ying arranged landscape elements to repeat the arc of the lower curve of the fan shape and aligned bamboos along the radiating spines of the fan. In a handscroll by Li Shida, rocks and bamboo break up the long horizontal expanse into smaller spaces in which the figures are situated. To explore the relationship between format and figural subject, this paper focuses on a few relevant depictions of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove: the stamped brick murals in a 5th century tomb near Nanjing; folding fan paintings given to the 16th century Qiu Ying and Wang Jianzhang (1641); a hanging scroll by Sheng Maoye (1634), a handscroll by Li Shida (1616), a horizontal, rectangular late 19th century print from Yangliuqing, porcelain censors of curving contours with underglaze blue decoration.

“Not Suitable for Gentlemen”: shinü tu in the Song dynasty
Bo Liu, John Carroll University, USA

Although landscape and flower-and-bird painting experienced unprecedented popularity in the Song dynasty, shinü tu —painting of beautiful/refined women- however, declined dramatically. This decline is even more remarkable when compared with the preceding historical period, the Tang and Five Dynasties, when the most recognized shinü tu painters lived and countless painting subjects about women were created. In addition to the shrunken number of shinü tu artists, when they did work on this genre, Song painters seemed to have tended to restrict their painting format to the round fan, a cooling aid used by both men and women in the Song dynasty, which had not become a collectible until the Southern Song. Meanwhile, traditionally collectible formats, such as handscroll and hanging scroll, the stork constituents for Song scholars’ study room, were consciously avoided. The extant shinü tu from the Song dynasty, for example, are almost exclusively painted on fans. Supported by the contemporary texts, this paper will argue that the change of production in the shinü tu genre is closely associated with the newly restricted consumption of female images by male scholars in the Song dynasty, which was affected by the emerging neo-confucian attitude toward female sexuality. Moreover, it will be suggested that many painted fans with shinü images, instead of being owned by men and functioned merely as objects for male fantasy, were more likely to have been possessed by Song women, and have played an unnegligible role in reforming the ideology about the ideal womanhood.

Meditating Formats: The Case of Representing Peach Blossom Spring in Chinese Painting
Wen-chien Cheng, Royal Ontario Museum, Canada

“Peach Blossom Spring,” a fable written by Tao Qian (367–427), is regarded as one of the best-known pieces of Chinese literature and has inspired numerous paintings. The piece narrates a story about a fisherman’s accidental discovery of a happy place called Peach Blossom Spring. This happy place, where people live peacefully in total seclusion from the world outside, became an allusion to utopia in Chinese culture thenceforth. One would assume that paintings of “Peach Blossom Spring” intend to present the story’s theme, thus being visualized in limited modes of narrative representation. However, the folklore-like nature of and the simple rusticity described in Tao’s original piece supply various analogies for the experience of immortal lands, rustic reclusion, and literatis’ personal gardens. In paintings, “Peach Blossom Spring” inspires representations of all these “genres” beyond its original narrative. The purpose of this paper is to reconsider how the pictorial formats in traditional portable paintings, including hanging scrolls, handscrolls, fans, and albums, were interwoven into the artists’ and patrons’ choices and intentions for representing their preferred genre. The examination of selective examples on the theme from the late imperial period suggests that artists mediated consciously on their adoption of specific formats. Not only were the circumstances of viewing taken into consideration, but also the physical capabilities of painting formats were maximized in order to create various visions of “Peach Blossom Spring” that went beyond thematic similarities.

The Album Format in Seventeenth-Century Nanjing Painting
Gregory M. Seiffert, Vassar College, USA

This paper examines the use of the album format in seventeenth-century Chinese painting, focusing on artists active in the Nanjing area. While the album was used as a painting format as early as the Song period, many extant albums date from the late Ming and early Qing, when the album seems to have become the preferred format of certain painters. Painters used albums to present a series of images in imitation of past styles, as well as to depict a series of landscapes in a given locality – practices that an suggest an increasing concern with how both painting’s history and local topography were envisioned. Focusing on albums painted by three Nanjing-based artists – Hu Yukun, Fan Qi, and Ye Xin (all active mid-to-late seventeenth century) – the paper considers how visual form and pictorial content are affected by the choice of the album format. The paper will ask how, in contrast to scroll formats, the more restricted dimensions of the album leaf affected these artists’ composition of individual landscape images; how the album format reinforced conventions for representing images in series, as in the case of topographic views of Nanjing; and how these artists’ use of the album format depended on networks of literati who collected and inscribed images during the early Qing period. Consideration of the album as a format suggests linkages between individual works and the contexts in which these works were viewed and evaluated, and offers clues toward understanding the prevalence of the album format in seventeenth-century Chinese painting.