The Self-Knowing Copy: A Copy of a Copy of the Qingming shanghe tu

Yeewan Koon
Associate Professor of Art History, Hong Kong University
Thursday, April 13, 2017, 6:00-7:00 pm

A common truism in Chinese art history is that copying works by former masters is essential, but to be imitative rather than transcendental was to be skilled yet without talent. The importance of copying has led to numerous worthy tomes on transfer methods and the assessment of the quality of brushwork in relation to these methods. But what happens when we use image as the key investigative subject? This presentation takes an attributed Qiu Ying copy of the Qingming shanghe tu as the starting point to investigate a small group of mid-Ming paintings that are copies of earlier famous paintings, but with either new endings or beginnings that radically shifts the narrative of the original. In such instances, there are always at least two embedded narratives – one that references the original, and the other of the copy's conceit. My interest lies in unpacking how these different narratives interact, what they may reveal about the values of an “original” in mid-Ming times, and how, instead of transcending the master, these paintings work because they are “self-knowing” imitations.