In this study, I approach the question of constructed desire in the representation of women’s literary culture in two media – painting and text. In the genre of paintings of cultured ladies (shinü tu), the notable motif of books and the act of reading can be observed in many examples from the late seventeenth century on. Specifically, I revisit the sumptuous set of paintings known as The Twelve Beauties of Prince Yinzhen (later the Yongzheng Emperor, r. 1723-1735), previously studied by art historians such as Wu Hung and James Cahill, as a pivotal nexus to examine the visibility of women’s literary culture in the Qing and, significantly, its instantiation of male subjects of desire. In comparison, I examine how this gendered literary culture is rendered visible through women’s own textual practices in the same period, in particular, how women represent their affective role as readers. As the subject of women and books was in vogue in painting, so the subject of reading, often specific texts, was legion in women’s poetry. By analyzing these representations across media, genre, and gender, the study explores questions regarding the construction and trajectories of desire implicated by the diffusion of women’s literary culture in the High Qing and after.