Professor and Alumna Collaborate – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Professor and Alumna Collaborate

Lara Blanchard, Luce Associate Professor of East Asian Art, and Kara Kenney ’06 have co-authored an article published in the Collaboration issue (Fall 2009) of Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender and Culture.

Titled “Traces of Collaboration: Empress Yang’s Captions for Xia Gui’s Twelve Views of Landscape,” the article concerns a Chinese empress’s working relationship with a court painter on a 13th-century handscroll painting. Empress Yang Meizi (1162-1233) composed and inscribed poetic captions for each of the 12 scenes of Xia Gui’s (fl. ca. 1180-1224) painting.  

“Art historians have generally assumed that she either wrote her captions as an afterthought or commissioned the work and presented the painter with captions to illustrate,” says Blanchard.  “However, both captions and painting improvise upon the poetry and painting cycles on the topic of the Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers, and in addition, the captions are not simple descriptions of the scenes nor the scenes simple illustrations of the captions.”

For these reasons, Blanchard and Kenney argue that the empress and painter may have collaborated on the work.  Although collaboration was not a common model of patronage in China, Empress Yang was known to collaborate with other court painters in order to create paintings that helped to reinforce her power and secure her status at court.  

The process of writing the article was itself collaborative, with two origins.  Blanchard had written a seminar paper while in graduate school at the University of Michigan on the relationship of Xia Gui’s painting and Empress Yang’s captions to the Eight Views theme.  Years later, she advised Kenney’s Honors paper in art history titled “The Reading of Pictorial Imagery: Empress Yang’s Collaboration with Xia Gui on Twelve Views of Landscape, ” which explored different possible interpretations of the work and proposed that Empress Yang may have intended it to commemorate her relationship with a younger empress, Xie Daoqing (1208-1282).  The new article combines elements of both papers.

Blanchard joined the Colleges’ faculty in 2001. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and her B.A. at the College of William and Mary. Before coming to Hobart and William Smith, she served as an instructor at the University of Michigan. She also previously held a research fellowship at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Her professional affiliations include being an Associate in Research for the East Asia Program at Cornell University, and a member of the Association for Asian Studies and the College Art Association.

Kenney was an Honors student who graduated from William Smith magna cum laude with a B.A. in art history and European studies.