Objects of Encounter: China in Eighteenth-Century France


ACLS Fellowship Program




Enlightenment thinkers bequeathed to posterity a conception of European art as rooted in Greco-Roman antiquity and Renaissance naturalism. Art from China, historically construed as radically other by sinologists and art historians, would seem to have no place in this construct. This project argues that it does. Taking eighteenth-century France as its focus, it contrasts the denunciation of Chinese art by critics to the ubiquity of Chinese and Chinese-inspired objects in French collections. It examines how French artists and consumers negotiated the alluring and unsettling aspects of China and its visual and material culture, and it analyzes the mechanisms by which it became difficult for historians to imagine Chinese objects had any role in shaping European speculation about art.