Chen Liu: Botticelli's 'W¿mèi' - Fu Lei and the Reception of Renaissance Art in Early 20th-Century China


Sandro Botticelli has raised every kind of art historical issues: iconography, authorship, patronage, connoisseurship, etc., and the interpretation of some of his most controversial paintings is still unsettled. But there is an intriguing story about the afterlife of Botticelli which so far has remained entirely unknown to Western art historians. This is a Chinese lecture script titled "Botticelli's 'Wǔmèi'", authored by Fu Lei, the most celebrated translator of French Literature in twentieth century China. 'Wǔmèi' is a peculiarly Chinese literary word to describe certain attributes of beauty, hence almost impossible to find an exact equivalent in English or any other European languages. Fu Lei's lecture belonged to a series of topics on Western art that he taught at the Shanghai Art College from 1932 to1933. In this presentation, I will explore the unique sense of 'Wǔmèi' in its description of Botticelli's art, against the background of the reception of Renaissance art in early 20th-century China.

Chen Liu is Associate Professor of Architectural History, Tsinghua University (Beijing), where she received her Bachelor of Architecture with Honors. In 2000, she received a Master of architecture and Urban Planning from University of Maryland, then practiced as an architect in Washington DC until 2005. She received her PhD in 2011 from Princeton University, studying Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture under the direction of John Pinto. From 2010 to 2011, she was a Fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, where she completed her dissertation titled "Between Perception and Expression: the Codex Coner and the Genre of Architectural Sketchbooks". She is a Mellon Visiting Fellow at Villa I Tatti (2012-13) and Co-director of the Harvard Center's Summer Seminar. Chen Liu has published several important articles on European architectural history, in both Chinese and English. Her article, "Teaching the Renaissance in China: Limitations and Qualifications" (2012) has been particularly well received.

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