Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Luo Ping, The Birth of "Ghost Painting," and Vesalian Anatomy in China; A Guest Post by Michael Sappol

The following is a guest post from Michael Sappol--curator of Dream Anatomy and author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies--dialed in from his luxurious pre-holiday vacation on the Riviera Maya en Estado Mexicano de Quintana Roo:
In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (“Specters of a Chinese Master,” 12-3-2009: 16-18;), Jonathan Spence, the brilliant historian of China, reviews an exhibition of Luo Ping paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (on only until January 10, 2010). The review pleasurably narrates the life and career of Luo Ping (1733-1799), a fascinating story, and discusses his “ghost” paintings (and the genre of ghost painting, which he invented), especially his great scroll painting, Ghost Amusement (1797). A detail of Ghost Amuseument, reproduced in the article, shows an anatomically correct skeleton with a spear, a death figure which is also evidence of the diffusion of Vesalian anatomy into China.

Spence writes: “Scholars have shown recently that the sense of the strange here was artfully drawn by Luo Ping from a new kind of source, the illustrations made by Vesalius for his volume of anatomical studies, the De Humani Corporis Fabrica of 1543, and republished in an anatomical book by Gaspard Bauhin at Frankfurt in 1605. This is thought to have been taken to Macao by a Swiss Jesuit in 1621, and published in a Chinese edition in 1630, some version of which was borrowed by Luo for his purposes.”

For those who can’t make the trip to MMA, there is also a printed catalogue of the exhibition, Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733–1799) (Zurich: Museum Rietberg), edited by Kim Karlsson, Alfreda Murck, and Michele Matteini, $62.00. Scholars have not yet intensively studied the diffusion of the post-Vesalian anatomical body into China, India, Africa, the Islamic world, and the Americas, how it was assimilated, resisted, and revised for indigenous purposes. But as the above example suggests, there are rich lodes of evidence to mine.
Thanks, Mike, for taking time out of your tropical luxuriating to draw this wonderful historical confluence to our attention!

You can find out more about the exhibition, "Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733–1799)", which is up through January 10th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by clicking here. To see the New York Review of Books article Sappol alludes to, click here. To find out more about Michael Sappol, you can check out his incredible exhibition catalog for "Dream Anatomy" by clicking here, and find out more about his book A Traffic of Dead Bodies by clicking here.

Top image is by Luo Ping, a detail of his "Ghost Amusement" ca. 1766 (more details here); bottom two images show plates from Andreas Vesalius' 1543 De Humani Corporis Fabrica, sporting nearly identical poses to those in Luo Ping's "Ghost Amusement;" More on that work by clicking here.

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