Work in Progress Talk by Prof. Quincy Ngan
Since Chinese painting and ancient bronzes are often displayed in different galleries, it is easy to overlook the intertwined relationship between pigments and bronze corrosion in traditional China. Scholarship in the last half-century has offered insight into this relationship by identifying the pigments and corrosion products that appeared on ancient Chinese bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Copper-based pigments are very closely related to copper corrosion products in terms of their chemical composition and visual appearance. Using this fact as a guide, this essay focuses on various copper-based pigments—both natural and artificial—and narrates how Chinese artists and craftsmen used them to paint, forge bronze corrosion, and enhance the aesthetics of bronze vessels and related objects. This talk demonstrates how copper-based pigments break down the boundaries established by the rigid taxonomy of media and reveal the deliberate choice of materials that artists made to enrich the visual effects and the depth of meaning in their creations. The transmediality of copper-based pigments—the way in which they establish connections between painting, stone sculptures, and cast bronze vessels—prompt scholars to synthesize art historical narrative and conservation science in the studies of other pigments and dyes across media.