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From Immortality to Mortality: Images of Tang Courtesans in Verse, Painting, and Anecdote

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

This paper examines different modes of representation of the courtesan in the poetry, painting and anecdotes of the Tang dynasty, and the implications of the disparities between these genres. Examples of courtesan poems idolized these entertaining girls and featured a poetic approach that drew on early romantic depictions of goddesses. The courtesan was presented as an immortal woman, given a transcendental dimension. These elements were echoed and reinforced in visual depictions in grotto or mausoleum murals. Stories from the Beili zhi (Records of the northern quarter), a collection of anecdotes about courtesans in Chang’an by a contemporary Tang scholar, show a different set of criteria for immortality. The author held up to his readers a more realistic and faithful mirror of the courtesan’s manners and life.


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