Amy McNair, professor of Chinese art, Kress Foundation Department of Art History, University of Kansas, will present the Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture in Art History on Thursday, November 7, at 4:10 p.m. in 203 Cohen Hall. Her lecture is entitled “Heroic Abandon: The 1300-Year Life of Yan Zhenqing’s Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter.”
Profoundly interested in the Chinese letter writing culture, McNair is the preeminent scholar in Tang dynasty calligraphy. In the history of Chinese calligraphy, few are more famous than the eighth-century statesman Yan Zhenqing (709-785). McNair’s lecture will focus on the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter by Yan Zhenqing, now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.
“This brief letter, which comments on military actions in 775, is exemplary not only for its extraordinary appearance—highly gestural cursive-script characters on blue sutra paper—and the reputation of its author, a renowned loyalist statesman, scholar and aristocrat,” wrote McNair, “but also for the rich documentation of its nearly 1300-year life in the hands of numerous important collectors and the manifold responses by critics and artists.”
Among her publications are The Upright Brush: Yan Zhenqing’s Calligraphy and Song Literati Politics (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1998), where McNair argues for the political rather than purely aesthetic basis for Yan Zhenqing’s artistic reputation. She shows how his prominent position was made for him in the eleventh century “by a handful of influential men who sought to advance their own position by associating themselves with Yan’s reputation for uprightness,” wrote McNair. “Equating style with personality, they adopted Yan’s calligraphic style as a way to clothe themselves in his persona.”
Donors of Longmen: Faith, Politics, and Patronage in Medieval Chinese Buddhist Sculpture (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007), considered the definitive work on Longmen, is the first work in a Western language to recreate the history of the Longmen Grottoes, one of China’s major stone sculpture repositories. Here McNair provides a rich and detailed examination of “the dynamics of faith, politics, and money” at Longmen, beginning with the inception of the site at Guyang Grotto in 493 and concluding with the last major dated project, the forty-eight Amitabhas added to the Great Vairocana Image Shrine in 730.
At the University of Kansas since 1992, McNair (B.A., University of Oregon; M.A., University of Washington; and Ph.D., University of Chicago) has taught such courses as Introduction to Asian Art, Art and Culture of China, Early Chinese Art, Medieval Chinese Art, Chinese Sculpture, Chinese Calligraphy, Chinese Painting, and Classical Chinese Art Texts. Her graduate seminars examine varied topics: Chinese Sculpture: Longmen Cave Shrines, Literary Themes in Chinese Art, History of Calligraphy, Mortuary Art in Early China, Art of the Tang Dynasty, Art of Northern and Southern Dynasties, Early Chinese Theories of Art, and Politics and Patronage in Chinese Art.
McNair has won many national and international fellowships and honors and is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. Her topic, “Lives of the Imperial Painters: Chinese Biographies in Translation,” is a translation of the twelfth-century Catalogue of the Imperial Painting Collection in the Proclaiming Harmony Era.
Sponsored by the Department of History of Art, the Goldberg Lecture is free and open to the public, and parking is available in Lot 95 outside Cohen Hall, off 21st Avenue South on the Peabody campus and across from Medical Center East.