Overturning the long-held assumption that the Xuanhe Catalogue of Paintings was the work of the Northern Song emperor Huizong (r. 1100–1126), Amy McNair argues that it was compiled instead under the direction of Liang Shicheng. Liang, a high-ranking eunuch official who sought to raise his social status from that of despised menial to educated elite, had privileged access to the emperor and palace. McNair’s study, based on her translation and extensive analysis of the text of the Xuanhe Catalogue of Paintings, offers a definitive argument for the authorship of this major landmark in Chinese painting criticism and clarifies why and how it was compiled.
The Painting Master’s Shame describes the remarkable circumstances of the period around 1120, when the catalogue was written. The political struggles over the New Policies, the promotion of the “scholar amateur” ideal in painting criticism and practice, and the rise of eunuch court officials as a powerful class converged to allow those officials the unprecedented opportunity to enhance their prestige through scholarly activities and politics. McNair analyzes the catalogue’s central polemical narrative—the humiliation of the high-ranking minister mistakenly called by the lowly title “Painting Master”—as the key to understanding Liang Shicheng’s methods and motives.