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Exploring the materiality of pigment in traditional Chinese painting, this dissertation focuses on the mineral azurite blue and its connatural counterpart, malachite green—two of the most versatile, expensive, and ancient colors in the history of Chinese art. It investigates how the production and circulation of azurite and malachite, as well as any point of view about the two minerals, enhanced the depth of meaning in pictorial motifs and subject matters. Exploring these issues through a case study, this dissertation focuses on the famous but understudied colorist Qiu Ying (ca. 1498 – ca.1552), whose oeuvre consisted chiefly of landscape and figure paintings made with azurite and malachite. Chapter 1 investigates how azurite and malachite engaged with premodern China and developed a wide swathe of connotations. Chapter 2 reconstructs the way that Qiu Ying and his contemporaries saw, thought about, and discussed various applications of azurite and malachite on landscape elements by doing close readings of their paintings and also of art treatises and works of art criticism that were in circulation at that time. Having explored the sixteenth-century worldview and art-historical understanding of the two minerals, the focus shifts to Qiu's Study Studio Amid Wutong Trees and Bamboo, a datable work that provides a relatively clear context of the use of color. Investigating the relationships between poetry, pictorial contents, and coloration in this painting, chapter 3 argues that Qiu understood and utilized the communicative power of azurite and malachite as early as 1527. With his conscious use of color as a communicative tool established, the last two chapters explore more complex meanings of azurite and malachite in Qiu’s paintings. Chapter 4 focuses on how the high cost of azurite affected Qiu’s placement of the pigment in a composition. It argues that Qiu used azurite to convert the inward desires of his patrons into outward signs by reserving the prized pigment for pictorial motifs that were important to his patrons. Finally, Chapter 5 uses Qiu’s paintings to explore the elusive and prolonged relationship between azurite and malachite and various aspects of immortality, not only in landscape paintings, but also in figure and bird-and-flower paintings. By demonstrating how colors signify meaning beyond coloration, this dissertation challenges the conventional wisdom in the field of Chinese painting that color was less important than ink in the late imperial era and demonstrates that color is a powerful focal point around which to study traditional Chinese painting. It also invites a dialogue between traditional Chinese painting and recent scholarship on the significance of pigments and dyes in the European and Latin American manuscripts, paintings, and murals, demonstrating that color is an important topic of inquiry. Reexamining the uses of color can bring together paintings that have long been studied separately and provide refreshing new interpretations of much-neglected pictorial elements such as technique, composition, and the color of pictorial motifs in traditional Chinese painting.


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