Research Projects

Visualizing Perfection: 
Representing the Daoist God Zhenwu in Late Imperial China

Zhenwu with an entourage of thunder marshals, early 15th century, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Zhenwu with an entourage of thunder marshals, early 15th century, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Noelle Giuffrida’s current book project illuminates the pivotal role that visual and material culture played in the construction and transmission of his cult and shifting beliefs about Zhenwu's identities and powers across Daoist, Buddhist, and popular religious contexts from the ninth through the eighteenth centuries. The book deploys an interdisciplinary material religion approach that explores the intersection of images, objects, and spaces with practices and beliefs. Her study probes processes of transmediation and the ways in which the transformation of objects and narratives across multiple media affected the meanings and reception of scrolls, murals, woodblock-printed books, statues, steles, ceramics, and textiles. It also traces the iconic circuits of images and the significance of their circulation across multiple media within China as well as transculturally to Japan where Zhenwu’s iconography and powers were merged with those of the Shinto deity Chintaku-reifu shin and the Buddhist stellar bodhisattva Myōken.

 

Also in progress:
“Apotheosis, Ascension and Intervention: Visual and Imaginative Pilgrimages Amidst Zhenwu’s Sacred Terrain” (journal article for Artibus Asiae


Imagining Immortal Patriarchs:
Xu Xun and Lü Dongbin in Ming and Qing China 

Lü Chunyang zushi quanzhuan  (Complete Biography of the Patriarch Lü Chunyang) 1662, Harvard-Yenching Library

Lü Chunyang zushi quanzhuan (Complete Biography of the Patriarch Lü Chunyang) 1662, Harvard-Yenching Library

As two of the most prominent Daoist immortals, Xu Xun (trad. 239-374) and Lü Dongbin (b. 796) have inspired extensive biographies, dedicated cults, and sacred sites, many firmly established by the twelfth century. Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) Daoists claimed Lü as a patriarch, while Xu served as a patriarch ofthe Jingming Zhongxiao (Pure Brightness and Filiality) school. They were not only credited with the transmission of particular Daoist texts and practices, but their biographies also highlighted their accomplishments as thaumaturges, sword-wielding vanquishers, and transcendents. Relying primarily on textual materials, previous studies have concentrated on the tracing the history of their cults in the Song and Yuan periods or examining these immortals’ inclusion in the texts of seventeenth century novels. This journal article explores the transmission and re-presentation of these two immortal patriarchs in woodblock printed illustrated books of the late Ming and early Qing. It explores four books. First, Giuffrida compares Deng Zhimo’s 鄧志謨 (fl. 1596) early seventeenth century novels Xu Zhenjun shou nielong tieshu ji 許真君收孽龍鐵樹記 (Record of Xu Zhenjun Pacifying the Evil Dragon with the Iron Tree) and Lü Chunyang de dao feijian ji (Lü Chunyang (Uses His) Flying Sword to Achieve the Dao). Then she addresses Yang Erzeng’s 楊爾曾 (1575-?) contemporaneous volume Xu Zhenjun jingming zongjiao lu 許真君淨明宗教錄 (Newly Carved Record of the Ancestral Teachings of the Perfected Lord Xu’s [Way of] Pure Brightness). And finally, she looks at Lü Chunyang zushi quanzhuan 呂純陽祖師全傳 (Complete Biography of the Patriarch Lü Chunyang) by Wang Qi 汪淇, aka Wang Xiangxu 汪象旭 (b. 1600, retired 1668) from the early Qing.  This investigation demonstrates how these books adapted the rhetorical and visual strategies of drama and performance to mediate readers’ knowledge and experience of Lü and Xu. These books aimed to transmit and assert distinctively Daoist identities for these immortals while contesting unflattering portrayals of them as bested by Buddhists or falling prey to female sexual entanglements.



Dealers and curators: C.T. Loo, Aschwin Lippe, Frank Caro, and Alan Priest, c. 1950, Photo by Nina Leen,  Life , 1950

Dealers and curators: C.T. Loo, Aschwin Lippe, Frank Caro, and Alan Priest, c. 1950, Photo by Nina Leen, Life, 1950

Dealer Exhibitions of Chinese Art in the 1960s and 1970s