FACSIMILES OF FACSIMILES:
THE RE-EMERGENCE AND REPRODUCTION OF LI GONGLIN'S FIVE TRIBUTE HORSES
Research Essay by Lora Miki written for the FAH465H1 Exhibiting China course taught by Professor Jennifer Purtle at the University of Toronto, St. George.
This slideshow sample accompanies a research presentation written by Lora Miki. The paper focuses on a particular facsimile in the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library's collection that represents the ca. 1090 (Northern Song Dynasty) handscroll, Five Tribute Horse, painted by Li Gonglin. The original work was long since believed to be lost during the chaos of WWII but has recently re-emerged in the safe hands of a Japanese private collector. . .
The recent re-emergence of Li Gonglin’s famous Five Tribute Horses handscroll beckons us to revisit the original painting with a careful eye. The original work has been the fantasy of art-historical scholarship and the subject of numerous reproductions. For this research essay, I have chosen to analyze the Li Gonglin Five Tribute Horses facsimile from the Cheng Yu Tung (CYT) East Asian Library collection and its unique relationship to the newly rediscovered original. Due to this exceptional situation, a project undertaken by the Hara Design Institute, Tokyo, released a full-scale art book of the masterpiece in 2019. It not only displayed Five Tribute Horses to the world but more importantly revealed that the painting was not in fact monochrome (as was previously assumed) but was instead painted in colour. By comparing the coloured original to the CYT facsimile, it becomes clear that for the past eight decades of art-historical scholarship, visual analysis of the Five Tribute Horses handscroll has been based on inaccurate reproductions.
This essay aims to emphasize the pronounced differences between the colourful image of Five Tribute Horses and its previous monochromatic facsimiles. From the description and formal analysis, this essay will argue that the inclusion of colour both radically changes the composition of the original and also challenges our understanding of Li’s use of the baimiao (plain ink drawing) technique. It will demonstrate that the facsimile in the CYT collection is not an accurate reproduction and must be carefully documented as such. Consequently, these assertions present many questions about the reproduction of reproductions and introduce the controversial issue of digital manipulation during the reproduction process. This discussion will be addressed within a brief historical review of facsimile reproduction and an evaluation of the recent Hara Design Institute project. The direction of this research stems from an exploration of the quality and uses of facsimiles for reliable academic purposes as well as for documentation, display, and appreciation.