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Connecting Across Boundaries: The Use of Chinese Images in Late Chosŏn Court Art from Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Connecting Across Boundaries: The Use of Chinese Images in Chosŏn Court Art from Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Perspectives examines how visual objects derived from China were represented and manipulated for royal court rites and palaces in Chosŏn Korea. This study investigates the importance of art in understanding cultural transmission and intercultural connections as well as the manifold relationship among artistic agents and objects in the ritual, political, socio-economical, and intellectual contexts of the Chosŏn dynasty. Focusing on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Chosŏn court screens, which depict themes deriving from Chinese textual and pictorial sources that were widely appreciated in Korea and Japan, this dissertation explores the perception and circulation of images, the dissemination of knowledge and social customs, the ritual use of visual objects, the deployment of art in palatial structures, and the role of artistic agents in the consumption and production of court art. It encompasses examination of the ways in which meaning is constructed, modified, and reinstated both in textual and visual forms, and what may happen when themes from a literary text are adapted to painting as well as moving across time and cultures.

While challenging the idea of a unilateral Chinese `influence' on Korean culture, which neglects the role of Korean artists, patrons, and beholders as active agents, this study aims to unveil the process of appropriation of Chinese themes and the causes that affected this process, whether political, socio-economic, intellectual, or artistic. In order to identify the dynamics between human agents, institutional systems, and objects and to analyze the cultural transmissions from China and the eclecticism reflected in Chosŏn art, I use two important theoretical concepts, "agency" and "cultural translation."

Emphasizing the political functions of court art, I use three case studies of court paintings produced to decorate palace buildings and to commemorate court rituals. First, I examine commemorative court screens in which stories of celebrated figures from Chinese literature and lore are fused with actual Chosŏn court events. These paintings successfully satisfied the demands of agents who wanted to elevate contemporary events by superimposing well-known exemplary ancient images on current secular occasions. Second, I analyze paintings depicting two legendary banquets of Chinese mythical and historical figures, which were produced to celebrate festive court rites in the nineteenth century. By identifying the patrons, their political standing, and the purpose of the paintings, I explore the way these paintings constructed a symbolic space pertaining to state rituals and expressed the agendas of a particular political party. I further explore how these paintings expressed the social values and political agendas of their patrons in a ritualistic way by examining the interplay between visual and non-visual forms of art in court rites. Third, I use screen paintings depicting Chinese sage rulers and idealized images of Chinese antiquity to explore how Chinese rulership and ideal society was represented at the Chosŏn court and how the current material culture and knowledge introduced from outside were integrated in the representation of an imaginary, ancient Chinese empire.

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