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Ma, Kexin (2024) Recreating the Past: Guwan tu Handscrolls and Practices of Illusionism under Emperor Yongzheng (r. 1723–35). PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis centres on two Yongzheng period (1723–35) handscrolls entitled Guwan tu 古玩圖 (Pictures of Ancient Playthings) housed in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. By reexamining the scrolls not solely as pictorial representations of antiquities, the thesis proposes an alternative approach to the scrolls through reintroducing them as material objects actively engaged with their spatial surroundings and socio-cultural milieus. Resituating them within the context of Qing image-making practices and object consumption, the thesis examines the scrolls’ position in relation to the canons of painting and objects prevailing under Emperor Yongzheng. An iconological-iconographical study focusing on the subject of the scrolls is further conducted in an attempt to reveal the identities of the depicted guwan in relation to extant objects similar in types. Through this study, the thesis presents the classification guidelines embedded in the Guwan tu, while calling attention to the complicated interrelationship between varied art objects attributed to different temporal layers in the history of Chinese material culture. Finally, the thesis delves into the provenience and provenance of the Guwan tu and the depicted objects, proposing the association between the scrolls, the painted guwan, and Yuanmingyuan, the imperial garden complex cherished by Emperor Yongzheng. Through an intensive cross-media investigation of the paintings in juxtaposition with textual and pictorial records of Yuanmingyuan, the thesis aims to elucidate how and why the Guwan tu series, as a painting project, was initiated in conjunction with the vigorous construction projects and practices of illusionism launched by the emperor in the imperial garden.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Stacey Pierson
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2024 09:17
Funders: Other, Other

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