Amy McNair

Amy McNair headshot
  • On leave during the 2023-2024 academic year
  • Professor, Chinese Art


Amy McNair specializes in medieval Chinese art, especially the sculpture and calligraphy of the Tang dynasty. She teaches courses on the Bronze Age in China, garden culture of Japan and China, and the histories of calligraphy, painting, and sculpture in China. Her graduate seminars have focused on Buddhist sites and patronage, as well as painting, calligraphy, and image-text relationships. Her research concerns the special functions of art production and patronage in class identification, religious expression, and the agency of marginalized groups. Recent books include an annotated translation of the 12th-century catalogue of the imperial painting collection and a study that argues the catalogue was the work of a high-ranking court eunuch official. Her current research is focused on a 19th-century calligrapher and seal-carver who navigated between the worlds of elite scholarship and the marketplace in Shanghai. She is Editor-in-chief of Artibus Asiae and a Founding Board Member of the Association for Chinese Art History.  


Ph.D. in Art History, University of Chicago, 1989
M.A. in Art History, University of Washington, 1982
B.A. in Art History, University of Oregon, 1978


Ph.D. Dissertations Directed

Zhu, Ying. “The Color of Taste: Boneless Landscape in the Late Ming Dynasty,” in progress.

Zhao, Yi, "Images of Buddhist Heavens and Pure Lands in Early Medieval China (Third to Sixth Century CE)," 2023.

Gao, Ruiying, “Collating Nature as Culture: Materia Medica Images in Ming China,” 2023.

Tong, Meng. “Visualizing the Buddha’s Prophecies in Dunhuang Cave Murals (ca. 6th -10th centuries),” in progress.

Zhu, Pinyan, "Longmen under Emperor Wu Zhao (r. 690–705): A Visionary Experience of the Heavenly Cemetery, Statues, and Huayan Buddhism," 2022.

Yan, Weitian, “Envisioning Antiquity: Yi Bingshou and the Politics of Memory in the Qing Dynasty,” 2022.

Liu, Ai-lian, “Yang Weizhen (1296–1370) and the Social Art of Painting Inscriptions,” 2011.

Kucera, Karil, “Cliff Notes: Text and Image at Baodingshan,” 2002.

Selected Publications

The Painting Master’s Shame: Liang Shicheng and the Xuanhe Catalogue of Paintings

Xuanhe Catalogue of Paintings: An Annotated Translation with an Introduction, Cornell East Asian Series, 2019.

“Letters as Calligraphy Exemplars: The Long and Eventful Life of the Imperial Commissioner Liu Letter by Yan Zhenqing (709-785),” in A History of Chinese Letters and Epistolary Culture. Edited by Antje Richter. Leiden: Brill, 2015, pp. 53-96.

“Brushwork and Beyond: The Study of Chinese Calligraphy in America and Europe,” in Proceedings from the 2014 College Art Association Distinguished Scholar Session in Honor of Wen C. Fong, Princeton: P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, 2015, pp. 43–62. 

“Calligraphy.” In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Chinese Studies. Edited by Tim Wright. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

“Patronage of Buddhist Buildings and Sovereignty in Medieval China: Four Cases from the Northern Wei Dynasty.” In Stifter und Mäzene und ihre Rolle in der Religion: Von Königen, Mönchen, Vordenkern und Laien in Indien, China und anderen Kulturen. Edited by Barbara Schuler. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013, pp. 19-42.

“Looking at Chinese Calligraphy:  The Anxiety of Anonymity and Calligraphy from the Periphery.” In Looking at Asian Art.  Edited by Katherine R. Tsiang and Martin J. Powers.  Chicago: The Center for the Art of East Asia, Department of Art History, University of Chicago, 2012, pp. 53-74.

Selected Presentations

Chinese Book Culture in Art-Historical Context for the Bibliographical Society of America with Prof. Ruiying Gao

Grants & Other Funded Activity

National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. Topic: "Lives of the Imperial Painters: Chinese Biographies in Translation," a translation of the 12th-century Catalogue of the Imperial Painting Collection in the Proclaiming Harmony Era.


Founding Member, Board of Directors, Association for Chinese Art History