Sensuous Surfaces is a richly illustrated and in-depth introduction to the decorative arts in Ming- and Qing-dynasty China. Jonathan Hay explores materials and techniques, as well as issues of patronage and taste, which together formed a loose system of informal rules that affected every level of decoration in early modern China, from an individual object to the arrangement of an entire residential interior.
By engaging the actual and metaphoric potential of surface, Hay contends, this system guided the production and use of the decorative arts during a period of explosive growth, which started in the late sixteenth century and continued until the mid-nineteenth century. This understanding of decorative arts in China made a fundamental contribution to the sensory education of its early modern urban population, both as individuals and in their established social roles. Sensuous Surfaces is also an elegant meditation on the role of pleasure in decoration. Often intellectually dismissed as merely pleasurable, Hay argues that decoration is better understood as a necessary form of art that can fulfill its function only by engaging the human capacity for erotic response.
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