Illustrations of Taiping Prefecture (1648): A Printed Album of Landscapes by the Seventeenth-Century Literati Artist, Xiao Yuncong (1596-1673)

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This dissertation analyzes a printed landscape album, Illustrations of Taiping Prefecture (Taiping shanshui tuhua) by Xiao Yuncong (1596-1673), one of a few scholar-artists who designed prints in the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century China. This study attempts to explore Xiao's printed landscape album in the context of his landscape paintings, mostly grouped into topographical landscapes and fanggu [follow ancient masters' styles] paintings.

Xiao's landscape album, commissioned by Zhang Wanxuan as a memento of the beautiful scenery of the Taiping area in 1648, contains forty-three landscape paintings: one panoramic view of the Taiping area and forty-two paintings depicting Dangtu, Wuhu, and Fanchang. Through a visual analysis of the album, I argue that Illustrations of Taiping Prefecture exemplify the increasing accessibility of literati culture in the late Ming and early Qing periods. I point out five distinctive characteristics of the Taiping album that make it more easily understood and appreciated by a broad audience: first, it is a collection of topographical landscapes which depict the local scenery and include the specific topographical elements; second, it is the faithful, narrative visualization of poetry inscribed in the album with vivid pictorial images; third, it uses the fanggu method, a simplified and objectified interpretation of the old masters' styles, for depicting real scenic views; fourth, it has descriptive and intriguing details that can easily draw the viewer's attention and provide a visual amusement; fifth, it is in the form of a printed album that can be widely circulated. Xiao's Taiping album not only contributed to the formation of Japanese literati painting, the Nanga tradition, but also provided many landscape motifs and compositions for the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting.

Unlike the literary art that contained metaphoric references understood mainly by the elite, Xiao's Taiping album presented familiar local sites in a manner that essentially decoded the abstract, symbolic meanings of the "classical" forms into more formulaic pictorial languages. The Taiping album played a significant role in helping to expand the breadth of scholarly culture during the seventeenth century.