Beijing and Beyond: Art and Empire in Early Modern China

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MA History of Art Special Option

Beijing and Beyond: Art and Empire in Early Modern China

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Detail of ‘Ten Thousand Countries Come to Court’, (Wanguo laichao tu), Qianlong period, Qing artist, The Palace Museum, Beijing, China.
Detail of ‘ Magnificent Record of Longevity’, 1717, Wang Yuanqi, et al, Chinese Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.
Detail of ‘Ten Thousand Countries Come to Court’, (Wanguo laichao tu), Qianlong period, Qing artist, The Palace Museum, Beijing, China.
Detail of ‘ Magnificent Record of Longevity’, 1717, Wang Yuanqi, et al, Chinese Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

As the imperial capital of the Ming and Qing dynasties, early modern Beijing was a thriving metropolis and truly global city. The largest city in the world throughout much of the early modern period, the human, artistic, and cultural currents that circulated within its walls extended throughout the empire, into East and Southeast Asia, and across Eurasia.

This MA Special Option explores the production and circulation of art within and beyond the early modern cosmopolitan centres of High Ming and especially Qing Beijing (ca. 1600–1800+). Contrary to reputation, the courts and societies of early modern China were deeply engaged with popular, elite, and global cultures of their periods. People, objects, and ideas from throughout the empire and around the world passed through Beijing, engendering a visual and material culture in mutually productive dialogue with a rich variety of intellectual and artistic sources. Through an exploration of images, objects, and spaces, this course considers how the court conceived, created, and deployed works of art as vehicles for ideological and cultural expression; the transcultural encounters both within and beyond the empire’s borders that contributed to these processes, including those with the pan-Asian Islamic and European worlds; and the circulation and consumption of objects among the court’s diverse audiences.

The course takes full advantage of the rich collections of London, offering first-hand study from original works of art and architecture in the UK and overseas, as well as extensive primary and secondary sources, and published works of art. Particular attention is given to the visual culture of the court in painting and print, and to its self-presentation through representation and spectacle; to the roles of diplomatic exchange, trade, and elite and popular cultures in histories of court art; to understandings of gender, ethnicity, and the exotic during the period; and to the historical and historiographic questions raised by shifting understandings of genre, medium, style, and artistic technology across the early modern world.

Shifting away from Chinese art’s traditional emphasis on Southern culture and discourses, Beijing and Beyond recentres the period and its artistic production within emerging discussions of connected histories of art. Taking the artistic activities and cultural currents of the court and capital as its points of origin, Beijing and Beyond explores overlapping imperial, regional, and global networks of interchange as it presents an alternative perspective on early modern art in China.


Course Leader: Dr Stephen Whiteman

Go to the MA History of Art Course Overview

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