Born in a Golden Light: Omens, Art, and Succession in the Southern Song, 1127-1279


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Art History & Archaeology


Omens are a widespread but understudied aspect of Song Dynasty society. Paintings and writings about such “responses from heaven” helped shape imperial politics, the bounds of appropriate governance, and people’s relations to the world. Yet, for all the efforts of political actors to control them, the appeal of omens lay in entropy: the chance encounter, the uncanny, the crossing of metaphysical or temporal thresholds. Through the first close study of the Southern Song handscroll “Illustrations of Auspicious Responses,” this project complicates the usage of Song art as instruments for political or historiographical writing. Instead, it considers viewership and situates “Illustrations” within narrative painting, archaeological remains, and texts such as collections of strange tales, showing that images were distinctly able to capture the nature of omen culture and its inherent contradictions.