Quincy Ngan

B.A., Chinese University of Hong Kong
Ph.D., University of Chicago

Quincy Ngan received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Chicago, respectively. Before joining Yale, he worked as Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, where he was noted for his teaching on premodern and contemporary Chinese art, Japanese art, and gender and sexuality. His research explores color, pigments, and materiality in traditional Chinese painting, as well representations of skin in Chinese art from the premodern era and thereafter.

Addressing an historiographical lacuna and bias in the field of Chinese painting that widely regards color as secondary to ink and brushwork, his book project, currently in progress, explores the oeuvre of the famous but understudied colorist Qiu Ying (ca. 1498-1552) while examining how azurite blue and its connatural counterpart, malachite green—two of the most expensive and versatile pigments in traditional China—conditioned the meaning of Qiu’s paintings. His research reveals that, for thousands of years in China, azurite and malachite were potent alchemical ingredients and medicines, precious commodities subject to taxation, costly pigments, and literary tropes of rarity and otherworldliness. Taxation on the two minerals, together with their medicinal efficacies, intertwined with society so profoundly that the minerals even became conduits for communication between artists and viewers in Qiu’s time. This book project not only offers the most encyclopedic socio-economic history of azurite and malachite in traditional China, it also demonstrates that they shaped the course of Chinese art history as significantly as any masters or patrons.

Quincy is deeply interested in materiality, probing how a material can complement the function and meaning of an artwork and become inseparable from its conceptual properties. Pursuing these questions, his article in The Metropolitan Museum Journal examines the materiality of pigment, the custom of birthday gift painting, and trends of clothing in seventeenth-century China. It focuses on two strikingly similar birthday paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art which feature an elderly couple wearing government officials’ robes lavishly washed in azurite. His research reveals that the symbolic value of azurite, since it had long been associated with medicines and elixirs, signifies longevity, reinforcing the function of the two paintings as birthday gifts. The exorbitant cost of azurite also accentuates the distinguished tenor of government officials’ robes. His article in Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art explores materiality via skin color. It focuses on the Naked Beyond Skin series by the contemporary Chinese artist Xiang Jing (b. 1968) and discusses how the notion of skin is enacted by her reiterative process of molding and casting as well as her figures’ surrealistic coloration.



“The New Emperor’s Cloths: Indigo and Allusion in Two Hongzhi Year One Paintings,” Archives of Asian Art 73.1 (2023): 1-23. 

“Destined to Rule: The Symbolism of the Jade-Colored Throne in Emperor Yongle’s Portrait,” Source: Notes in the History of Art 42.1 (2022): 14-24. 

“Collecting Azurite and Malachite as Curios and Medicines in Late Imperial China,” Ming Qing Yanjiu 24.1 (2020): 67-102.

“The Significance of Azurite Blue in Two Ming Dynasty Birthday Portraits,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 53 (2018): 46-62.

“Skin and Dematerialization of the Body in Xiang Jing’s (b. 1968) Figure Sculptures,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 17.4 (2018): 34-49.

“The Soul Under the Skin – A Dialogue between Xiang Jing and Quincy Ngan,” in Xiang Jing: Works, Documents, and Annotations, edited by Xiang Jing (China Citic Press, 2017), 1002-29.

“Secai tanwei – Tan Qiu Ying de shese jifa (To see big things in small – On the application of colors in Qiu Ying’s paintings),” National Palace Museum Monthly 379 (2014): 40-51.