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Representing the Literatus Self in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

Date: 12 September 2014 (Friday)
Time: 4:30pm
Venue: Room 7.58, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus

Existing portraits of scholar-officials prior to the Song dynasty suggest that many were commissioned for the purpose of commemoration. The imperial court was a great patron for portraiture that was designed to serve a public function and usually this was in the format of a “portrait sequence” in which exalted officials were lined up to receive and give homage. Detailed facial description was not important in early portraiture and painters only started to paint faces with a greater tendency towards naturalism, which I define as the putative agreement between the appearances of the painting and the actual sitter, in the Five Dynasties (907-979). In the Song dynasty (960-1279), alternative playful ways in making portraitures were invented by court, professional and literati painters. Some deployed with increasing naturalism and some were with relaxed brushwork while others did not even include representations of the person. The Song literati abandoned figural representations at times and borrowed elements from the nature to make emblematic portraits of themselves. Visual evidence suggests portraiture for the literati appears to have developed in different directions in terms of facial naturalism in Song. My research indicates that facial naturalism regained importance in the construction of Yuan literati portraiture. Moreover, a new mode of portraiture was developed in Yuan as demonstrated in Portrait of Yang Zhuxi (Yang Zhuxi Xiao Xiang 楊竹西小像), c. 1362, a collaboration work by a professional portraitist, Wang Yi 王繹 (c. 1333-c.1385) and the famous painter-poet Ni Zan 倪瓚 (1301-1374). This innovative work combines the naturalistic detailed rendering of the face with the sketchily outlined depiction of the robe within a symbolic landscape. This new mode of figural representation had great appeal in the following Ming dynasty (1368-1644). My thesis focuses on the study of Yuan literati portraiture and I explore the reasons for the iconographic and stylistic changes. My preliminary research suggests that the changes in the social status and shifts in cultural constructions of Yuan literati might be some of the major reasons for the new iconography.

Speaker: Candy Leung Ge Yau (MPhil Candidate, Department of Fine Arts, HKU)

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