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Upcoming Symposium: Qing Encounters

September 13, 2012


Peking University, Beijing, China – October 10-13, 2012

My paper:

The Function and Significance of Linear Perspective in Eighteenth-Century China

Although the use of linear perspective in late imperial China is well established, its presence in the eighteenth century has typically been assessed only in terms of “European influence” and exotica. The consequential lack of meaningful art historical discourse on the subject of perspective in Chinese art has meant that two major issues remain: first, the misconception that linear perspective was simply received passively and incorporated into art for novelty value, and second, a general lack of conceptualization surrounding engagement with and reception of the works. In short, for Chinese art produced in response to European contact, the basic art historical question of what linear perspective does and means in this context remains unanswered—an issue that has received significant consideration in scholarship on Western art.

This paper therefore seeks to interrogate both the function of linear perspective as a new visual technology in eighteenth-century Chinese art, and the more profound significance this pictorial method had in terms of creating permeable spaces for its viewers in a variety of media and sizes. Functioning from the premise that Qing artists, patrons, and audiences actively exerted agency and intention in the use and consumption of perspective, this paper examines four specific areas of art: painting, engraving, architecture, and woodblock prints. Ultimately, these works stand to offer insights not only into the function and significance of linear perspective in High Qing China, but also into the different perceptions elite and popular audiences had of this new visuality and pictoriality relative to the works they encountered.

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