Chinese Painting and Its Audiences

About the Author

Craig Clunas is professor of the history of art at the University of Oxford. His books include Screen of Kings: Royal Art and Power in Ming China, Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China, and Art in China.

Chinese Painting and Its Audiences

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Craig Clunas

What is Chinese painting? When did it begin? And what are the different associations of this term in China and the West? In Chinese Painting and Its Audiences, which is based on the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts given at the National Gallery of Art, leading art historian Craig Clunas draws from a wealth of artistic masterpieces and lesser-known pictures, some of them discussed here in English for the first time, to show how Chinese painting has been understood by a range of audiences over five centuries, from the Ming Dynasty to today. Richly illustrated, Chinese Painting and Its Audiences demonstrates that viewers in China and beyond have irrevocably shaped this great artistic tradition.


Arguing that audiences within China were crucially important to the evolution of Chinese painting, Clunas considers how Chinese artists have imagined the reception of their own work. By examining paintings that depict people looking at paintings, he introduces readers to ideal types of viewers: the scholar, the gentleman, the merchant, the nation, and the people. In discussing the changing audiences for Chinese art, Clunas emphasizes that the diversity and quantity of images in Chinese culture make it impossible to generalize definitively about what constitutes Chinese painting.


Exploring the complex relationships between works of art and those who look at them, Chinese Painting and Its Audiences sheds new light on how the concept of Chinese painting has been formed and reformed over hundreds of years.

  • Hardcover
  • 8 x 11.5 inches
  • 320 pages, 200 color illustrations and 50 halftones
  • Published: 2017


Best Art Books of 2017, New York Times


Editorial Reviews

"Absolutely lavishly illustrated." —Rana Mitter, Free Thinking, BBC Radio 3

"With an elegant, welcoming conversational style and clear arguments, this book probes the ramifications of the modern English term 'Chinese painting.' Clunas brings to this work his unique combination of deep scholarship and deep knowledge of objects, the history of the art market, and the collection of Chinese art." —Patricia Berger, University of California, Berkeley

"Looking at a wide variety of media across a wide swath of time, Chinese Painting and Its Audiences repeatedly exposes unexpected ironies that undermine facile assumptions about the Chinese and European art traditions. With this innovative work, Clunas sets a new bar for the global history of art." —Martin Powers, University of Michigan

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