The Western Han dynasty (202 BCE–9 CE) was a foundational period for the artistic culture of ancient China, a fact particularly visible in the era’s funerary art. Iconic forms of Chinese art such as dazzling suits of jade; cavernous, rock-cut mountain tombs; fancifully ornate wall paintings; and armies of miniature terracotta warriors were prepared for the tombs of the elite during this period. Many of the finest objects of the Western Han have been excavated from the tombs of kings, who administered local provinces on behalf of the emperors.
Allison R. Miller paints a new picture of elite art production by revealing the contributions of the kings to Western Han artistic culture. She demonstrates that the kings were not mere imitators of the imperial court but rather innovators, employing local materials and workshops and experimenting with new techniques to challenge the artistic hegemony of the imperial house. Tombs and funerary art, Miller contends, functioned as an important vehicle of political expression as kings strove to persuade the population and other elites of their legitimacy. Through case studies of five genres of royal art, Miller argues that the political structure of the early Western Han, with the emperor as one ruler among peers, benefited artistic production and innovation. Kingly Splendor brings together close readings of funerary art and architecture with nuanced analyses of political and institutional dynamics to provide an interdisciplinary revisionist history of the early Western Han.
Kingly Splendor is a deeply researched, lucid, and path-breaking exploration of cultural and political competition and exchange between the Western Han kings and the imperial court. This is a major contribution to the field of early China studies; I know of no other work that demonstrates the method and historical value of material analysis more convincingly. -- Martin Powers, author of China and England: The Preindustrial Struggle for Justice in Word and Image
An engaging read for students and scholars alike, Kingly Splendor offers a fresh materials-based approach to Western Han archaeology. By privileging the stories of artisans and local rulers, Miller decenters traditional narratives about the court’s pervasive influence and highlights the creativity and innovation that flourished on the fringes. -- Sarah Laursen, Alan J. Dworsky Associate Curator of Chinese Art, Harvard Art Museums
Using art and architecture as primary evidence, Kingly Splendor is an in-depth study of the first sixty years of the Han dynasty, and it is much more. Superbly illustrated, this first work to focus on such a short period of Chinese art also offers translations of the most important literary evidence of the period. Further, it interfaces the legacy of China’s first emperor with its resolution in early Han China. The charts, from tomb typology to jade suits, are unsurpassed by any other study. -- Nancy Shatzman Steindhardt, author of Chinese Architecture: A History
Finally, a book that takes seriously the royal courts of the Western Han as sites of innovation. Miller marshals her impressive art-historical and archaeological skills to zoom in on concrete aspects of a rich record of materiality created by the kings and their artisans. This book is refreshing in its attention to local contexts and initiatives, and in its refusal to assume that the imperial court at Chang’an was the measure of all things. -- Griet Vankeerberghen, author of The Huainanzi and Liu An's Claim to Moral Authority
About the Author
Allison R. Miller is associate professor of art history at Southwestern University.
- Publisher : Columbia University Press (December 1, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 360 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0231196601
- ISBN-13 : 978-0231196604
- Item Weight : 1.65 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches