Screen of Kings is the first book in any language to examine the cultural role of the regional aristocracy or ‘kings’ – relatives of the emperors – in Ming dynasty China (1368–1644). 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.
To listen to a discussion of Screen of Kings by Craig Clunas and Carla Nappi of www.newbooksineastasianstudies.com please click here.
‘Craig Clunas shines a bright searchlight on the kings of Ming dynasty China, bringing these forgotten aristocrats out of the shadows and into clear view. Cutting through traditional biases and energetically finding new material, Clunas persuasively argues for the cultural importance and intrinsic interest of these kings. He supplies handsome illustrations of beautiful objects in many media and brings a breadth of context that comes from familiarity with parallels in other times and places. As in all his work, Clunas provides a fresh and surprising picture . . . Screen of Kings opens up the field of Ming art and culture, and points forward to more informed scholarly work and to more knowledgeable collecting. Craig Clunas writes accessibly for the intelligent non-specialist, and this is a beautifully illustrated book that can be consumed with pleasure.’ – Orientations
‘A new book by Craig Clunas is welcome news for readers interested in Chinese art history – however much he forces us to rethink everything we thought we knew . . . Clunas’s approach is to ask new questions about familiar material and to reveal connections with seemingly unrelated topics . . . re-evaluates the objects associated with the Ming “kings” and the historiography of this once prominent group of cultural producers, consumers and distributors in Ming China . . . a challenging but memorable read.’ – Art Newspaper
‘Craig Clunas’ latest book is an elegant monograph about the extremely little-known, if also much disparaged cultural world of provincial members of the Ming royal family . . . At the heart of Clunas's book is a meticulous reconstruction of the material culture associated with the fanwang, brought to life with some extant objects but also, extensively and painstakingly, through texts.’ – Burlington Magazine
‘a thoroughly engaging and genuinely innovative and revisionist study of a crucial period in China’s political and artistic history.’ – Etudes chinoises
‘The kingly cityscapes in Clunas’s beautifully-written book are full of buildings, gardens, tombs, calligraphic texts, paintings, jewelry, poems, bronzes, and musical instruments. The book situates these objects in an innovative way, emphasizing the importance of Ming kingly courts as sites of cultural innovation, production, and reproduction, and of kings as producers, collectors, and patrons of the arts. This is a must-read for anyone interested in Ming history, the history of the arts in China, histories of locality, or the history of relationships between art and power more broadly conceived. It is also an absolute pleasure to read.’ – New Books in East Asian Studies
‘Craig Clunas, undoubtedly one of the most prolific scholars of the art and material culture of Ming dynasty China, has given us a groundbreaking new work that promises to reshape our understanding of Ming cultural history . . . Screen of Kings is destined to become a reference book on the regional aristocracy during the Ming dynasty; one of its major accomplishments is the meticulous excavation and collation of all the material and textual evidence on this elusive subject . . . The mark of a truly influential work of scholarship is when it not only breaks new ground, but opens up exciting avenues for research and creates fresh attitudes toward existing material. Screen of Kings does all of these things and does them well. Craig Clunas has challenged cultural historians of the Ming dynasty to take notice of the regional kings and has uncovered enough of their story so that we can no longer ignore them. As a result, Screen of Kings significantly expands our perception of what constitutes art patronage and production during this period of Chinese history and, more importantly, starts to rebalance our notions of what might matter about Ming China.’ – Journal of Chinese Studies
‘Clunas is an outstanding scholar and specialist of the Ming period whose works on collecting and on Ming society have radically changed the field. Screen of Kings takes his work into a new area . . . a superb contribution which will provide new and exciting insights.’ – Lothar Ledderose, Director, Institute of East Asian Art History, Heidelberg, Baden-Würrtemberg
‘Screen of Kings is an exceptional and ambitious endeavour to narrate simultaneously the history and historiography of the regional princes and to write the history of their artistic production. A ground-breaking monograph that seeks to revise our understanding of the arts of the Ming dynasty.’ – Jennifer Purtle, Associate Professor, Department of Art, University of Toronto
Craig Clunas is Professor of History of Art at the University of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. His previous books include Art in China (1997), Elegant Debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming (Reaktion, 2004) and Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644 (Reaktion, 2007).