Design by the Book explores the medieval Chinese book Sanli tu (Illustrations to the Ritual Classics) and its impact on Chinese material culture.

Completed in 961 by Nie Chongyi (fl. 948–964), it is the oldest extant illustrated study of classical Chinese artifacts from musical instruments, maps, and court insignia to sacrificial jades, ceremonial dress, and mourning and funerary paraphernalia. It brings to light the significance of this long overlooked book, which served as a guide both to the material culture of the Classics and to the design of Confucian ritual paraphernalia in postclassical, imperial China. The exhibition also addresses themes that go beyond the book itself, including Confucian ritual as a means to legitimate the monarchy, the birth of antiquarian scholarship in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, Emperor Huizong’s ritual reforms, and the role of the art market in driving the reproduction of artifacts illustrated in the book.

A Focus Project curated by François Louis, Associate Professor, History of Chinese Design and Visual Culture, Bard Graduate Center. Focus Projects are small-scale academically rigorous exhibitions and publications that are developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows in collaboration with students in our MA and PhD programs.