Painting and Private Life in Eleventh-century China: Mountain Villa by Li Gonglin

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Princeton University Press, 1998 - Art - 164 pages
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In the eleventh century, the focus of Chinese painting shifted dramatically. The subject matter of most earlier works of art was drawn from a broadly shared heritage of political, religious, and literary themes. Late in the century, however, a group of scholar-artists began to make paintings that reflected the private experiences of their own lives. Robert Harrist argues here that no work illuminates this development more vividly than Mountain Villa, a handscroll by the renowned artist Li Gonglin (ca. 1041-1106). Through a detailed reading of the painting and an analysis of its place in the visual culture of Li's time, the author offers a new explanation for the emergence of autobiographic content in Chinese art.

Harrist proposes that the subject of Li's painting--his garden in the Longmian Mountains--was itself a form of self-representation, since a garden was then considered a reflection of its owner's character and values. He demonstrates also that Li's turn toward the imagery of private life was inspired by the conventions of Chinese lyric poetry, in which poets recorded and responded to the experiences of their lives.

The book draws the reader into the artistic, scholarly, and political world of Li Gonglin and shows the profound influence of Buddhism on Chinese painting and poetry. It offers important insights not just into Chinese art, but also into Chinese literature and intellectual history.


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The Face behind the Fan Li Gonglin and Northern Song Painting
A Walk through the Longmian Mountains
The Transformed Landscape Place and Persona in Northern Song Gardens
Evoking the Past Memories of Wang Wei and Lu Hong
Mountain Villa and the Languages of Landscape in EleventhCentury China
Conclusion Painting and Private Life
The Extant Copies of Mountain Villa
Glossary of Chinese Characters

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About the author (1998)

Harrist is associate professor of art and archarology at Columbia University in New York City.

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