Introduction:“Handscroll painting” is an art form that has a long history in China, where it has developed distinct characteristics and exerted profound influence on other types of artistic expression. Although similar painting formats exist in other art traditions around the world, none is comparable to Chinese handscroll painting in terms of its historical continuity and artistic complexity. This lecture explores the “media specificities” of the handscroll through analyzing a series of masterpieces from ancient China, including The Nymph of the Luo River (Luoshen fu tu), Night Entertainment of Han Xizai (Han Xizai yeyan tu), Along the River During the Qingming Festival (Qingming shanghe tu), and others. Generally, the handscroll is a painting format that comes across as a “spatial” and “temporal” art, and in this sense it is similar to modern movies or TV. But its extreme “private” nature – only one viewer is allowed to hold it at a time – has specific social and cultural implications, serves particular artistic goals, and is related to special viewing conventions and settings. Ancient Chinese painters developed intense interest in the handscroll’s media specificities, and invented a unique visual tradition through continuously discovering the rich potentials of the handscroll as an art medium. Consequently, only through exploring such media specificities can we begin to examine the historical development of handscroll paintings – to understand how generations of artists have discovered and utilized the potential of this visual form, while simultaneously transforming an empty scroll into concrete and individualized artistic expressions.
About the speaker:Famous art historian, Professor of Department of Art History at the University of Chicago