The Collections of Emperor Huizong
By the end of the sixth century CE, both the royal courts and the educated elite in China were collecting works of art, particularly scrolls of calligraphy and paintings done by known artists. By the time of Emperor Huizong (1082-1135) of the Song dynasty (960-1279), both scholars and the imperial court were cataloguing their collections and also collecting ancient bronzes and rubbings of ancient inscriptions. The catalogues of Huizong's painting, calligraphy, and antiquities collections list over 9,000 items, and the tiny fraction of the listed items that survive today are all among the masterpieces of early Chinese art.
Patricia Ebrey's study of Huizong's collections places them in both political and art historical context. The acts of adding to and cataloguing the imperial collections were political ones, among the strategies that the Song court used to demonstrate its patronage of the culture of the brush, and they need to be seen in the context of contemporary political divisions and controversies. At the same time, court intervention in the art market was both influenced by, and had an impact on, the production, circulation, and imagination of art outside the court.
The heart of the book examines in detail the primary fields of collecting — antiquities, calligraphy, and painting. Chapters devoted to each of these use Huizong's catalogues to reconstruct what was in his collection and to probe choices made by the cataloguers. The acts of inclusion, exclusion, and sequencing that they performed allowed them to influence how people thought of the collection, and to attempt to promote or demote particular artists and styles.
This book will be of interest to scholars and students of Chinese art history, social history, and culture, as well as art collectors.
Published with the assistance of The Getty Foundation.
About the Author
"Ebrey's depiction of how the court appropriated literati collecting practices during Huizong's reign succeeds in presenting imperial collecting as a positive instrument for cultivating political power."—Foong Ping, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, December 2011
"The collections of the late Northern Song emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1125) were unprecedented in scale and comprehensiveness. Accumulating Culture is a highly readable, handsomely illustrated account of Huizong's quarter century of collecting, which culminated in the compilation of three catalogues that became standards for centuries thereafter."—Journal of Asian Studies
"Traditional historiography has never succeeded in assessing the cultural enterprises of Huizong independent of their final cost in political terms, which Ebrey manages to accomplish with considerable skill. Placing the reign in the context of its time, she explores the contemporary political value of Huizong's cultural enterprises as well as their impact on later practices of art collecting and criticism."—Richard L. Davis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
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