Geiss Award Publications 2012 – 2013

Since Geiss Foundation started subvention awards to publish qualified books about Ming studies in 2010, funding towards four publications were granted.  These awards are designed especially to assist first-time authors bring their finished manuscripts to publication.  Awards, which are granted the applicant’s academic press, may range between $3,000.- to $4,500.-   Both publishers and qualified individual applicants may apply.

Recipients of the Geiss Subvention Award in 2012 and their publications include:


Picturing the True Form: Daoist Visual Culture in Traditional China by Shih-shan Susan Huang, Harvard University Asia Center.

trueform As most Daoist studies focus on texts, this book with many related illustrations from the Chicago Art Institute, offers visual insight to Daoism.

Picturing the True Form investigates Daoism’s visual culture, a basic indigenous religion of China, from the 10th to the 13th centuries. This richly illustrated book provides a comprehensive mapping of Daoist images in various media, from Dunhuang manuscripts, funerary artifacts and paintings, as well as charts, drawings, and talismans from the 15th century Daoist Canon. True form (zhenxing), the key concept behind Daoist visuality, is not static, but embraces an active journey of observing underlying and secret phenomena.

The book mirrors the two-part Daoist journey from the inner to the outer. Part I discusses inner images associated with meditation and visualization practices for self-cultivation and longevity, while Part II investigates the visual and material dimensions of Daoist ritual.

The inner and outer reflect each other; the boundary that demarcates the two is fluid. The author explains the three central modes of Daoist symbolism, aniconic, immaterial, and ephemeral.  She shows how by combining text and images Daoist visual culture differs from its Buddhist counterpart.

See Carla Nappi’s review here.


P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, Princeton University, Commemorative Landscape Painting in China by Anne de Coursey Clapp.

scapeThis is a richly illustrated study of an important genre of Ming-dynasty Chinese painting that originated as a lecture delivered at Princeton University in 2007. The author explains how landscapes function as disguised portraits to celebrate an individual and his achievements, ambitions, and tastes in an open effort to win recognition, support, and social status.  Anne de Coursey Clapp presents a broad view of these commemorative landscape paintings, including antecedents in the Song and Yuan dynasties.

The book traces the literary associations attached to this new landscape concept gained popularity during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), when commemorative paintings first appeared, and flourished through the Ming (1368-1644), finally evolving into an art form that was simultaneously pictorial and verbal.

Commemorative landscape painting is distinguished from the landscape of the Song (960-1259) because it functioned to celebrate a particular historical person, to laud his achievements, and to win social status and recognition. This disguised portraiture allows the subject to assert himself, his ambitions and tastes, while seeking acceptance and support from his peers.

The value system of the literati social structure had become so familiar to its members that an individual could address his audience through a pictorial biography, just as he had through for centuries by using literary biography. Such paintings appear as natural landscapes, interpreted in many different moods and forms.

The author further examines different types of dedicatory paintings, including departure paintings, and a subgenre, known as biehao, in which portrait subjects are symbolized through pictorial representations of their literary names.

Pdf downloads of the book’s Preface, Foreword, and List of Illustrations are available at the Princeton University Press website.


Screen of Kings: Royal Art and Power in Ming China, by Craig Clunas, Reaktion Press.


Screen of Kings is among the first books to examine the cultural role of the regional aristocracy or ‘kings’ – relatives of the emperors – in Ming dynasty China (1368–1644).  This subject was the topic of Geiss Foundation’s 2011 Provincial Courts Conference, which included Prof Clunas’ participation. Through an investigation of their patronage of architecture, calligraphy, painting and other art forms, and through examination of the contents of their splendid and recently excavated tombs, this innovative study puts the aristocracy back at the heart of accounts of China’s cultural and artistic histories, from which they have until very recently been excluded.

In this book, Craig Clunas sheds new light on many familiar artworks, as well as works that have never before been reproduced. Screen of Kings challenges much of the received wisdom about Ming China; new archaeological discoveries have furnished us with evidence of the lavish, spectacular lifestyles of the country’s provincial kings and demonstrate how central the imperial family was to the high culture of the Ming era.

Written by the leading specialist in the art and culture of the Ming period, this new work of scholarship illuminates a key aspect of China’s past, and will significantly alter our understanding of Ming dynastic power and relations. It will be enjoyed by anyone with a serious interest in the history and art of this great civilization.