Chinese Women Artists and New Manifestations of Guanyin, 1550–1750

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2023

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Abstract

This dissertation examines the ways in which Chinese women artists in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties (1550–1750) used “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin” as a model to create new artworks. “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin” is a set of pictorial depictions and eulogies for the important Buddhist deity Guanyin, whose feminine appearance and salvific power garnered a great cult among female Buddhists in pre-modern China. I argue that, by copying, appropriating, and transforming this set to create novel works of paintings and embroideries, Chinese women artists from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century demonstrated their increased artistic agency as well as their deep engagement with the religious visual culture of the time. Four artistic mediums are studied for the investigation of “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin” and women’s exploration of this theme: rubbing, painting, woodblock print, and embroidery. Chapter One studies the rubbing version of the “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin” to illustrate its characteristic as a catalog of feminine iconography of Guanyin, compiled in the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). Chapter Two examines the painted albums of the “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin,” executed by female painters for female patrons, to prove that the set was a crucial part of the visual culture of the lay Buddhist women of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, serving as the ideal subject of artistic appropriations. Chapter Three discusses the woodblock print volumes of “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin” and how they made the popular iconography of Guanyin available for women readers as potential embroidery patterns. Lastly, Chapter Four surveys the embroidered versions of the Guanyin images from the “Thirty-Two Manifestations of Bodhisattva Guanyin,” which shows the greatest degree of the transformation from models, to bring focus to Chinese women’s artistic agency in the medium symbolic of feminine virtue. The artworks studied in this dissertation will demonstrate that for women artists exploring the theme of Guanyin, making references to the pre-existing imagery did not always equate to honoring the past. Instead, the works bear witness to the women artists’ adaptability to the demands and preferences of the general Buddhist audience, highlighting how paintings, prints, and embroideries coexisted to create a dynamic culture in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.

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Yoon, Soohyun (2023). Chinese Women Artists and New Manifestations of Guanyin, 1550–1750. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/30282.

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