The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is currently running an exhibit, “Court Ladies or Pin-Up Girls? Chinese Paintings from the MFA,” that was inspired by research conducted by Lara Blanchard, Luce Associate Professor of East Asian Art and Chair of the HWS Art and Architecture Department. The exhibit draws upon research that Blanchard presented in an article, “Huizong’s New Clothes: Desire and Allegory in Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk.”
Her research was published in the journal Ars Orientalis in 2009 and is among the journal’s most-accessed articles in both the past three months and the past three years. The article offers an alternative interpretation of the 12th-century painting, “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk,” which was attributed to Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty and currently resides in the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The exhibition was curated by Nancy Berliner and features 30 works of Chinese art spanning the 11th and 21st centuries that depict women in suggestive ways. Berliner references Blanchard’s research in her comments on the impetus for the exhibition, which are included in wall text in the exhibition space. In her comments, she says that she “happened upon research that implies a suggestive interpretation of the painting.”
Blanchard’s research is also cited in the exhibition’s didactic label for “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk.”
“The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is one of the great art museums, and they have an excellent collection of Asian art,” Blanchard says. “The particular painting that I wrote about is one of the masterpieces of their collection, and it is wonderful that museum visitors are having a chance to look at it carefully alongside other Chinese images of women.”
In her research, Blanchard examines the political implications of the painting, arguing that the painting uses love poetry in order to portray women yearning for Emperor Huizong. Because the love relationship can be analogous to the relationship between a ruler and his advisers, she contends that the women’s devotion is a comment on Huizong’s fitness as a ruler, affirming his possession of the mandate of heaven.
“I don’t actually reject the standard interpretation,” says Blanchard. “I think the painting has multiple layers of meaning, and my interpretation builds on earlier interpretations.”
Blanchard joined the HWS faculty in 2001. She received her bachelor’s degree in art history and mathematics from the College of William and Mary and her MA and Ph.D. in art history from the University of Michigan.
This summer, Blanchard is co-editing a collection of essays on gender in East Asian art from about 1500 to 1950 AD, as well as writing an introduction to the volume. Her other recent work includes an essay on feminism and gendered gazes in the work of two contemporary women artists who specialize in video, painting, and photography for a collection focusing on female artists in contemporary China.
The exhibition is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through July 19. For more information on the exhibit, visit: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/court-ladies-or-pin-up-girls