Disciplining Art History – Situating the Study of Funerary Art

Bonnie Cheng, Oberlin College


Because of the range of media used to furnish and construct tombs and related structures in China, the study of funerary art sits at the intersection of multiple disciplines and methodologies. Drawing on approaches from anthropology, archaeology, and art history, Wu Hung has advanced our understanding of many crucial aspects of these art forms, exploring pictorial logic, materiality, ritual, and space. My paper will briefly map disparate ways scholars of the past fifty years have approached material evidence from tombs and then examine how related subjects and media are described and categorized in select Tang and pre-Tang texts. Now that a well-documented record of tombs from the fourth to eighth and ninth centuries is available and integrated scholarly approaches have modeled paths for future research, can we return to early painting treatises or other texts with an eye towards how decorative, material, or pictorial trends in tombs align or compete with early painting historiography? As contemporary art history undergoes global and anthropological turns, can we advance a history of these crucial centuries that engages contributions from painting and tomb scholars and situates it in dialogue with art historians beyond China? Recognizing that disciplinary approaches do not have to be incompatible, I seek to clarify methodological differences in order to generate productive dialogue and collaboration across disciplines and regions.