In “Coloring by the Book: Chen Hongshou’s Yinju shiliu guan and the Reproducibility of the Painted Image,” I consider how the innovative figure painter and print designer Chen Hongshou (1598-1652) responded to the media revolution of his time. I focus on an album of paintings he compiled in 1651 and entitled Yinju shiliu guan (Sixteen Views of Dwelling in Obscurity; or, as the title is more commonly translated, Sixteen Views of Living in Seclusion). Chen fashioned the album of paintings to simulate a foliated book, adopting the publishing apparatus of a book to organize the album’s introductory verbal components. Reader-viewers may have expected to see a text unfold among the album’s successive leaves, but Chen displayed only pictures. Among the album’s pictorial leaves, scenes of drinking and reading predominate. Each scene of reading was distinguished with a peculiar form of the foliated book, thereby emphasizing Chen’s interest in how books were manipulated. Nonetheless, the variously bound books have one thing in common: Chen drew each one as a stiff, blank rectangle. I argue that the blank books are metaphors. They represent the affective power of viewing the paintings, which, like books, transport the reader-viewer into a separate world structured by his or her desire. Dwelling on what reader-viewers expected of foliated books, Chen thus examined how a painting album fostered different, albeit complementary, kinds of looking and reading. Furthermore, through the deliberate manipulation of his materials—ink, paper, and mineral pigments—Chen both mimicked and contested the fictive paintings created by contemporary block-cutters in lavishly illustrated books such as Shizhuzhai shuhua pu (Register of painting and calligraphy from Ten Bamboo Studio). By exhibiting a painter’s sensuous play with paper and water, Chen ultimately cast doubt on the reproducibility of the painted image among the leaves of a printed book.
Anne Burkus-Chasson is an Associate Professor in the Art History Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Through a Forest of Chancellors: Fugitive Histories in Liu Yuan’s Lingyan ge, an Illustrated Book from Seventeenth-Century Suzhou (Cambridge, MA, 2010). She has published a number of articles on the figure painter Chen Hongshou and is currently preparing a book manuscript on the intersection between Chen’s painting and the illustrated books that circulated during the late Ming.