China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Defined as a representation of an individual, the term “portraiture” is firmly tied to the idea of likeness, in particular the face, of a person. This panel expands this definition to foreground the complexity of portraiture by examining Chinese portraits that achieve a compelling presence of the sitter without delineating his/her physical features. These include portraits in the disguise of flowers, geometric symbols and calligraphic traces, and even something that lacks material form. These portraits are among the most effective in conveying intangible aspects of the sitters such as their character, virtues and ideals.
The four papers attend to this specific type of portraits/portrayals made out of different types of pictorial, graphic and narrative idioms and institutions. Yong Cho focuses on the Vajrabhairava Mandala, showing how it functioned as tantric portraits that captured the deified bodies of deceased emperors in the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Peter Sturman discusses the writings by the Ming calligrapher Xu Wei (1521-1593) created during his imprisonment, identifying these works as the artist’s self-presentation. Najung Kim examines the late Ming-early Qing era painter Chen Hongshou’s (1598-1652) birthday presentation painting of flower vases, interpreting the image as Chen’s family portrait in an autumn paradise, and further as a reenactment of the world of the recluse-poet Tao Yuanming (365-427). Yao Wu, taking the establishment of posthumous reputation as an abstract form of portraiture, examines the evolving story-telling and institutional canonization around two seminal artists and teachers at the China Academy of Art—Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) and Pan Tianshou (1897-1971).