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Iconography and schemata: a communicating history in painting between China and the West, 1514-1885

posted on 2023-06-15, 15:43 authored by Joshua Gong
In the West, Chinoiserie and Chinese export art have been studied extensively, however not until museology and modern curating revolutionised during the 1960s and 1970s, had researches in both fields fundamentally reached the breaking point in methods and approaches. In the past 30 years, it is discernable that Chinoiserie and Chinese export art could be merged under the banner of communicating art history, and comparative researches prevailed, which made such a tendency much more apparent. In Mainland China, serious studies have been conducted since the 1980s, further discoveries and arguments were made respectively based on the previous studies in the West. Nevertheless, the two researches have not been synthesized and recognized as a distinctive subject in the field of culture studies, cultural exchange and communication to be specific with the perspective of globalisation and modernisation. This book aims at elucidating that art history has never been absolutely isolated, geographically and culturally; and since the age of exploration, China and the West has been in direct contact, within which new tastes and styles emerged and changed the course of art. The curtain of communication between the two regions in painting was pulled up by the Portuguese explorers, who in 1514 reached China; and henceforth Westerners were able to trade with China directly. Catholic paintings were not only brought to China and gained tremendous response among the Chinese intellectuals, but also taught in Macau, where local artists started painting with Western manner. In Qing dynasty, paintings of Western manner were commissioned by the emperors for various purposes and the craftsmen at court brought the skills back to the provincial areas and reshaped the print industry. Meanwhile in Europe, Chinese objects appeared in masterpieces, and eventually paintings of Chinese taste were identified as Chinoiserie. Chinese fashion was extremely popular at the French court in the 18th century, and soon after it became prevalent throughout well nigh all European nations not only within the circle of aristocracy but also that of the common place. That social phenomenon was regard as Chinoiserie. More than a hundred paintings were selected to cover the time spin from 1514 to 1885, for representing the trajectory of as well as the turning points in the history of art, with degrees of profundity and accuracy. It is hoped that new discourses and approaches could be recognised and could benefit the future researches on connoisseurship, cultural exchange and social transition in early modern history of art. This book focuses on three different spheres of cultural production, namely religion, politics and economics, as a means to reconstruct the history and contextualise and de-contexualise objects of art for more reliable interpretations. By the end of the 19th century, it seemed that Chinoiserie as a social phenomenon in art was replaced by Japonaiserie, however in 1885, Japan declared abandoning sino-centric cultural sphere and embracing European civilisation with indestructible determination, as European culture was heading to the righteous path to the modern age. Even so, the artistic communication between China and the West did not cease to exist; and imperialist powers did not wipe out the traditional Chinese concept of art, rather China and the West both entered, ineluctably, into a new era of art: modernism. Chinoiseire and Chinese export paintings were generated throughout the history of globalication and cultural communication, and they could help reconstruct its history and brought its representation with degrees of the visualised grandiloquence and splendour.


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