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McCausland, Shane (2014) 'Exemplary Complicity: The Pictorial Lives of Han Court Beauties in Two Narrative Handscrolls of Mid-Ming Suzhou.' In: McCausland, Shane and Hwang, Yin, (eds.), On Telling Images of China: Essays in Narrative Painting and Visual Culture. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 89-116.

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This study explores You Qiu’s visual narration in the handscroll format via two paintings in the Shanghai Museum, Lady Zhaojun Leaves China (Zhaojun chusai tu) of 1554 and Spring Morning in the Han Palace (Hangong chunxiao tu) of 1568. The first scroll, an extended mono-scenic rendition of figures in a landscape, describes the journey made by the Han palace lady Wang Zhaojun to marry a nomad chieftain, an act of self-sacrifice that ushered in a prolonged era of peace between Han China and the Xiongnu nomads. The second painting, in twelve discrete scenes, illustrates the life-story of two femmes fatales—Zhao Feiyan and her sister, Hede, favourites of the Han emperor Chengdi (r. 33–7 BC) whose conduct almost toppled the empire. The first scroll consists of You Qiu’s painting alone, whereas in the second, You Qiu’s painting is part of an assembly of related texts, one inscribed by Wen Zhengming. The study offers close readings of the paintings. It investigates and extrapolates the visual narrative techniques within, including how text is translated to image, and explores aesthetic choices in light of the historical position of the two artworks. It considers the social, political and artistic contexts of the paintings in the latter part of the Jiajing reign, and the ways in which such artworks could have functioned as veiled admonitions, even as paintings that were not to be seen at court but rather in Suzhou scholar society. The argument, concerning the visual imagination of a journeyman painter tasked with illustrating popular tales, relates to studies of an ‘obsessive’ model of selfhood and desire among Ming collector-connoisseurs as well as to studies on irony as an aesthetic mode in Ming culture. In sum, this essay aims to think beyond the fact that these picture-scrolls draw conventionally on historical precedents to provide illusions of similarity and historical parallelism, and to investigate elements of audience complicity in how they manipulate those precedents.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of History of Art and Archaeology
ISBN: 9789888139439
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2014 14:21

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