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Private Dining in Two Song Dynasty Banquet Paintings

Fri, March 17, 10:30am to 12:30pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: 2nd Floor, Wentworth

Abstract

Among the handful of extant figural paintings from the Song dynasty, only a few present scenes of banquets or feasts, despite the importance these occasions held in the social, religious, and political life of the elite. This paper will compare two of these rare Song period paintings of banquets, Palace Banquet and Literary Gathering. Both large hanging scrolls, each depicts an intimate elite gathering in secluded surroundings. Set in the elaborate architecture of a palace complex, Palace Banquet portrays a group of ladies assembling for an evening feast. Literary Gathering features a gentleman’s banquet in the contrasting setting of a rustic garden.

Both paintings have often been interpreted as faithful historical documents of actual or near-actual events. But these paintings are perhaps best read from the opposing vantage point, one that takes into account both the motivations of the patrons who commissioned them and the visual thinking of the painter trying to solve a specific artistic problem. This approach positions these banquet scenes as imagined events, filled with the artist’s projection of the social and cultural ideals desired by the patron. By viewing Palace Banquet and Literary Gathering through the opposing lens of reality and fantasy this paper seeks to offer a more nuanced understanding of banqueting culture, artistic practices, and gender identity in Song dynasty China.

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