Theses Doctoral

Woven Paintings, Woven Writing: Intermediality in Kesi Silk Tapestry in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties

Tunstall, Alexandra C.

This dissertation explores pictorial kesi, silk-woven tapestry, from its origins in China through the Qing dynasty, focusing on objects and sources from the Ming and Qing periods. While pictorial kesi imitated the visual appearance of paintings and calligraphy, no in-depth study of the three media in relation to each other has been undertaken. By approaching kesi through the techniques of the weaver and the materiality of the finished product, this dissertation explores an important pictorial art form on its own terms.
This dissertation is divided into two parts, the first focusing on the origins, technology and techniques of weaving kesi in China. While tapestry weave was imported from Central Asia in the seventh century, Chinese craftsmen embraced the technology of creating colorful clear designs in silk and used it to imitate court paintings of the Song dynasty in the twelfth century. The author will study the intricate techniques of color blending and color joining that were developed by Chinese weavers to create complicated, beautiful images inspired by paintings. Looking at a kesi reproduction of a calligraphy scroll by Dong Qichang (1555-1636), I will analyze kesi calligraphy through the process of its making and the meaning in its materiality, as well as the political implications of this work.
The second part will study kesi in relationship to the visual arts, focusing on painting. Examining a kesi attributed to the woman weaver Zhu Kerou (active twelfth century) will shed light not only on the practice of weaving painting-like images but also on the elaborate system of male connoisseurship in the Ming and Qing dynasties that judged and categorized it. Lastly, focusing on a composition attached to the name of a famous Ming painter, Shen Zhou (1427-1509), this dissertation will study the issue of authorship in kesi and the practice of adding famous names to woven compositions.
Through studying the issues of intermediality, reproduction, connoisseurship, and materiality, the author will shed a new light on kesi, believed for so long to be decorative copies of paintings. These works incorporate complex techniques developed to solve aesthetic problems and have a unique visual language of their own. Through this study, the objects, so carefully and painstakingly created by craftsmen and weavers, will begin to speak for themselves.

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
October 2, 2015