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Research Postgraduate Seminar

Pheasants and the Jiangnan Literati: Pheasant Paintings of Wang Yuan (act. c.1300 – 1360)

Date: 15 April 2021 (Thursday)
Time: 4:30-6:00pm
Venue: online (click here for the zoom link)
Meeting ID: 975 8542 7572 (password: 020106)
Speaker: Leung Ge Yau Candy, Ph.D. candidate, HKU

Abstract

Birds have a long history of serving as motifs to represent auspicious meaning in visual representations in Chinese culture. Colourful paintings with phoenixes, cranes and a variety of birds expressing good wishes of longevity and fortune adorn the walls of tombs and palaces of the imperial and aristocratic families of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. At times, different species of birds are presented in background settings with specific seasonal flowers to make up rebuses carrying ideas of prosperity in paintings. In this seminar, through the examination of the motif of the pheasant in textual and visual representations, I seek to explore the meanings of pheasants beyond readings of rebuses and representations of auspiciousness. I closely examine three pheasant paintings of the Yuan painter Wang Yuan 王淵 (act. c. 1300 – 1360) to propose that the artist depicted the bird paintings in a specific way to appeal to regional elite patrons. He deployed contrasting brushwork to create images of a paradise for recluses that draws upon features of Jiangnan gardens and land. In this talk, I discuss how some educated elites in Yuan-era Jiangnan sought to showcase their knowledge and cultural accomplishments, establishing in part their literati identity through the appreciation and possession of pheasant paintings.