China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Marble slabs with natural pigmentation that evoke images of misty mountain peaks, framed as table and standing screens or inserted into furniture, were ubiquitous during the Ming and Qing dynasties as seen in extant objects, their depiction in painting, and a specialized literature. The appreciation of such “images not made by human hand” goes back to at least the Song dynasty, and although no objects have survived from this period, textual sources present a rich corpus, ranging from connoisseurly evaluations to typologies of stones and laudatory as well as mocking poems. These texts offer the opportunity to examine a range of questions about image-making, agency, and labor; naturalness; and the potential impact of “natural” images on painting practices.
Previous scholarship has discussed these stones as chance or accidental images and explored processes of “seeing-in” – often in reference to similar notions in European art. Yet, Song dynasty textual sources do not address these concerns. My paper will instead focus on two central aspects that emerge from the textual record: First, the legendary and actual making and production of these stone screens, and, secondly, the concept of “naturalness” that ties the appreciation of stone screens to theories of calligraphy and painting during the eleventh century.