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Title: Narrative agency in thirteenth-fourteenth century Chan figure painting : a study of hagiography-iconography text-image relationships
Author: McNeill, Malcolm L. S.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6422 1216
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis examines the relationships between image and text in paintings of Chan Buddhist figural subjects from thirteenth and fourteenth century China. Its central contention is that the visual qualities of these paintings, and the lexical content of the inscriptions upon them, made complex allusions to narrative prototypes recorded in hagiographies, as part of the pedagogical practice of the Chan tradition. These narrative allusions communicated religious teachings to the viewer, mediating their relationship to the Chan pantheon of exemplars and eccentrics. This thesis' analysis of the connections between painters, inscribers, subjects and viewers of Chan figure paintings addresses an under researched dimension of thirteenth and fourteenth century Chinese visual culture. By focusing on the Chinese context for the creation and reception of Chan figure paintings, the following discussion offers an alternative to the recurrent framing of these works as precursors to Japanese Zen painting. Instead, this thesis focuses on the distinctive agency of narrative in the reception of these works in a thirteenth and fourteenth century Chinese context. This is explored in six chapters, outlined below. Chapter one surveys modern scholarship on Chan figure painting, problematising its frequent conflation with Japanese Zen art. Chapters two, three and four examine three different narrative themes in Chan figure painting: transitions, interactions, and awakenings. These three chapters show how these visual narrative themes respectively reflected and reinforced the legitimacy, authority and efficacy of Chan's lineages and teachings. The fifth chapter explores the role of inscriptions upon paintings in shaping the Song and Yuan ideal of a Chan abbot, through a case study encomia on Chan figure paintings by Yanxi Guanwen (1189-1263). The final chapter examines the idealisation of the preeminent painter of Chan figural subjects, Liang Kai (late 12-early 13th century), distinguishing between the historic receptions of his attributions in Chinese and Japanese collections.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral