The Classical Painting Tradition in China
Tuesday, Thursday: 11:00-12:30pm
In 1651 a Mr. Wu in southern China made the dying wish that a mid-14th century landscape painting be tossed into a fire, hoping to take it with him to the netherworld. Unfortunately for him—but fortunately for us—when the painting was set ablaze a few days following his demise, Mr. Wu’s nephew was quick to pounce and managed to save most of it. This scroll now exists in two segments totaling more than 20 feet in length. One is tempted to speculate about the reasons which motivated the nephew to break his promise and the other members of the family to acquiesce to his decision. A vehicle for the nourishment of the spirit (to Mr. Wu), a highly priced commodity (to his nephew?), a relic of “self-expression” (to the painting’s 17th-century viewers), and a religious sigil created for a like-minded peer (to the original painter), however, the significance of Mr. Wu’s precious landscape was over-determined. The study of the Chinese painting tradition likewise requires one to confront the entangled material, religious, intellectual, and socio-economic histories that have shaped both the production and consumption of paintings. Each week, we will examine one painting closely and study the ways in which it has been understood historically. Many of the examples we will look at have now achieved canonical status within the history of Chinese art; others are much lesser known. In this class we will also study how the institution of art history first took shape in China through the production, circulation, collection, and publication of painting.
This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical area (B) and Chronological period (I), (II) or (III), based on the topic of the final research paper or project.