Theses Doctoral

Embodied Materials: The Emergence of Figural Imagery in Prehistoric China

Larrive-Bass, Sandrine Simone Mariette

This dissertation explores the emergence of figuration in prehistoric China. It approaches the topic by focusing on image-makers’ engagement with the materials they used to fashion figural works. Chapter 1 presents a survey of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images created from the Epipaleolithic through the Neolithic periods. It highlights a multiplicity of forms, materials and representational approaches while uncovering recurring patterns. Chapter 2 introduces the principal theories scholars have applied to discuss this corpus, and draws out their similarity with paradigms used in Western scholarship on prehistoric art. The discussion further draws attention to a bi-directional influence exerted on the reception of prehistoric imagery in Europe and China. Chapter 3 focuses on images produced prior to or around 5,000 BCE, and repositions their emergence in the context of broader interests in materiality and representation. The analysis uncovers trends and explores circumstances that notably led image-makers separated in time and space to represent human heads as flat entities. Chapter 4 investigates the role of pareidolia in the emergence of images. It reveals that perceptive imagination informed the creation of some works, when craftspeople drew inspiration from forms in raw materials or artifacts. Chapter 5 explores the possibility that image-makers sought to achieve material-representation synergies. The discussion presents a new taxonomic model addressing materiality and the sensory channels through which figurative images are perceived, and it describes how these factors possibly constituted a core aspect of mimesis. The analysis proposes that some image-makers employed both visual and tactile qualities of substances to represent animals and human beings.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Harrist Jr., Robert E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 26, 2015