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Organizer & moderator, “Chinese Book Culture in Art-Historical Context”

Art historians Ruiying Gao and Amy McNair will introduce and explore two types of books with ancient roots in Chinese culture: materia medica and seal catalogs. Materia medica convey the healing properties of the natural world. Focusing on illustrated manuscripts, Professor Gao will reconstruct the historical roots of Chinese materia medica, which proliferated from the 7th century. Chinese seals have long been prized for their historical and artistic qualities. Professor McNair will address seal catalogues, attested since the 12 th century, and their utility to collectors, artists, and patrons. Bibliographer and book historian Devin Fitzgerald will provide remarks following the presentations.

Presentation, “Crossing Borders: Jewish Women’s Devotional Literature”

Interest in collections of tkhines, that is, Jewish women’s prayerbooks, primarily in Yiddish, has blossomed since the groundbreaking work of Chava Weissler in the 1990s. That is because these works speak to the growing field of gender studies, to the appeal of more personal forms of religious expression (especially in light of the pandemic) and to the evergreen theme of immigrant experience. Due to language barriers, however, they are largely known only through second-hand accounts and translation. The tkhines held in the Dorot Jewish Division provide an opportunity for introducing general audiences to the physical characteristics and structure of tkhines, how they contribute to understanding the past and how they can inform the present.

Session Chair: “The Chinese Material Text in Intercultural and Historiographic Perspective, Part II”

Building on a session presented at the College Art Association’s 2022 Annual Conference, this session investigates the special significance of Chinese textual objects in intercultural and historiographic perspective. The surprising afterlives of ancient inscriptions, whether in stone, paper, embroidered cloth, or other materials play important roles in all four presentations. The afterlives are, however, highly varied. A purportedly supernatural, third-century rock inscription provides inspiration for a script that finds its way to Japan some 1600 years later. A Song dynasty inscription reproduced in diverse media is analyzed from a nineteenth-century perspective, when collectors’ engagement with the materiality of the inscription transformed their approach to the text. Likewise transformative was the engagement of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Chinese women with ancient inscriptions; their work sheds light on history as viewed from their standpoint and, by extension, records an overlooked aspect of modern Chinese intellectual history. The final paper considers how eighteenth-century Chinese catalogs of antiquities enabled Korean artists to visualize their patrons’ collecting practices. The interplay between Chinese intellectual history and aesthetic appreciation thus provides a means of addressing the broad historical and cultural significance of a diverse range of material texts.