University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
240 occurrences of e
[Clear Hits]
expand section 
expand section 

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
16  expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIV. 
10  expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
10  expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
12  expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 

240 occurrences of e
[Clear Hits]


With the beginning of direct intercourse in the six-
teenth century, the artists and craftsmen of Europe had
become intrigued with Chinese textiles, porcelain, and
lacquer ware. A pronounced taste for Chinese art ob-
jects was widespread in Europe by the time tea was
introduced to Restoration England. The motifs on the
Chinese products were widely copied in Europe both
in imitations that were made of the products them-
selves and in other art forms. Europeans were success-
ful by the late seventeenth century in producing an
acceptable and competitive lacquer ware. A generation
later they had learned to make true hardpaste porce-
lain. Along with the art products themselves, the
Europeans sought to obtain information on Chinese
techniques. Books and articles on Chinese arts were
collected and read by interested amateurs and profes-
sionals as the China vogue spread from France to the
other European countries, and from the nobility to the
lowest classes in society. Never before had Europe
received so powerful and varied an artistic stimulus
from a distant civilization.

The craze for Chinese art objects reached its peak
in the early and middle years of the eighteenth century.
Royalty, nobility, and men of substance collected
Chinese cabinets, chairs, tables, screens, fans, hangings,
porcelains, and lacquered bowls. Interiors were pan-
eled with lacquer or wallpapered with Chinese designs.
In the palaces a special chamber was often designed
to house the porcelain collection of the owner. Many
of the items collected were prepared in China espe-
cially for this vast European market and were designed
to appeal to the European taste for the exotic. As a
consequence they often reflected more about the
Chinese conception of European taste than about
Chinese art itself. Parasols, pagodas, and mandarins
were depicted on the wares made in China as the
Europeans conceived of them rather than as they ac-
tually looked. European artists, who incorporated these
contrived designs into their own works, were often
copying Chinese people, objects, and scenes that were
born in the minds of those European artists and artisans
afflicted by Sinomania.

“Chinoiserie” (meaning bizarre tricks or monkey-
shines in modern French usage) is a term descriptive
of the eighteenth-century European view of China as
a place of escape from the trials of daily life, as a haven
of leisure and luxury, as a utopia where laughter is
always gay. In this conception China is remote in
distance rather than in time. Its “Golden Age” is not
in the past or future, but in a perpetual and glorious
present. Its landscapes are always green, its waters
clear and cool, its skies sunny. The Chinese people are
graceful, delicate, and colorful; they love beautiful
gardens, quiet ponds, tinkling bells, and happy society.
They are the gay Chinese of the porcelains who have
almost no relationship to the wise Chinese of the Jesuits
and philosophers or the wicked Chinese of the mer-
chants. They are the untroubled people who live under
the reasonable and tolerant rule of an enlightened and
prosperous king.

The playful, and sometimes wistful, spirit of chi-
noiserie is best reflected in the visual arts. To
Europeans, weary of Renaissance adulation of the staid
art of antiquity, the strange objects of China provided
welcome relief. Frivolous courtiers and serious artists
at Versailles in the time of Louis XIV were among the
first to bring the light spirit of chinoiserie into the
established arts of Europe. Perhaps as a reaction against
the classical plan of the park at Versailles, an exquisite
pleasure house, the Trianon de porcelaine, was erected
in the gardens in 1670. This was but the first of many
such pavilions that would dot the classical and land-
scape gardens of Europe in the following century. But,
as was often the case, the Trianon was a building whose
basic architecture was uncompromisingly French and
baroque. It was only the surface ornamentation which
gave it a bizarre, Chinese appearance. As a general
rule, the Chinese taste was incorporated into baroque
art by the addition of exotic ornaments and motifs to
forms that remained fundamentally European both in
conception and structure alike.

The rococo art of the Regency period in France lent
itself especially well to exotic treatment. Antoine
Watteau in his drawings and paintings was the earliest
and most influential of the creators of rococo chi-
noiseries. His mandarins, temples, and parasols became
hallmarks of decoration à la Chine and were copied
by lesser artists all over Europe. Monkeys came fre-
quently into his fantastic decorations and they were
regularly added to chinoiseries for exotic effects. The
increased use of watercolors in painting probably owed
a debt to the porcelain pictures. François Boucher, a
painter and a designer of tapestries, stressed the charms


of Chinese pastoral and village life, and his people
began to look like real Chinese in face and figure.
Jean-Baptiste Pillement, draughtsman and painter to
Louis XIV, drew chinoiseries for engravers that were
even more fantastic and vivacious than the paintings
of Watteau. The drawings of Pillement were copied
everywhere, and are still considered to be the best
examples of chinoiserie at the height of its refinement.
While the artists themselves were not influenced by
the conception of China found in the philosophes, there
is no doubt that the popularity of the chinoiseries owed
a debt to the high reputation which the savants gave
to China. The ordinary person could readily draw the
conclusion that these happy people lived under a phi-

In the eighteenth century it was generally agreed
that the English landscape garden, as it then evolved,
owed a substantial debt to the art of Chinese gardening.
Sir William Temple, a critic of classical, formal gar-
dens, noted in 1685 that the Chinese in their gardens
seek to reproduce natural effects by following schemes
based on “Sharawadgi,” his own rendition of a Chinese
or Japanese term meaning “studied irregularity.” On
the basis of Temple's remarks the conviction grew that
the Chinese example was more important to the evolu-
tion of the landscape garden than were Roman proto-
types, the semi-formal garden, or a new attitude to-
wards nature in its wild state. Naturalism as an end
in itself was not enough to satisfy Sir William Cham-
bers, who believed that an inanimate, simple nature
was too insipid and that gardens required “every aid
that either art or nature can furnish” (Bald, p. 318).

It was as such an aid that the chinoiserie form was
used. But because European garden architects had
almost no direct knowledge of Chinese garden design,
art historians today generally hold that the Chinese
example had no influence upon what has been called
the Anglo-Chinese garden. The case for Chinese influ-
ence has usually been supported exclusively by refer-
ence to the large number of garden buildings, pagodas,
and bridges which were included in the new gardens
by their designers or added by their owners. Whatever
else it was, the Anglo-Chinese garden was certainly
another art form which came under the influence of
the vogue for ornamenting through chinoiseries.

From the arts of gardening and architecture, the
revolt against classical rigidity stimulated by the idea
of “Sharawadgi” speedily passed to the other arts.
Chinese persons or scenes were introduced into
baroque novels to provide gallant, grotesque, or fan-
tastic elements, as in C. W. Hagdorn, Aeyquan, oder
der Grosse Mogul
(1670). Romances were based upon
Oriental tales to lend them an idyllic and exotic air.
Utopian writers cited China as an example of a tolerant
society. Books on Chinese designs as exhortations to
adopt the new taste are typified by Thomas Chippen-
dale's The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director
(1754). Writers of fictional travel accounts, sometimes
called extraordinary voyages, provided thumbnail
sketches of Chinese people and places.

The sage chinois, who represented in literature the
idealized Chinese of the philosophes, was frequently
used as a literary spectator of and commentator upon
the European scene. The Marquis d'Argens dedicated
his Lettres chinoises (The Hague, 1755) to the shade of
Confucius, “the greatest man the world has yet pro-
duced,” and he speculated that Confucius and Leibniz
were holding frequent conversations in another world.
Oliver Goldsmith in his Chinese Letters, which ap-
peared in The Public Ledger between 1760 and 1762,
put his critical observations of European society into
the mouth of Lien Chi Altangi out of deference to the
prevailing fashion. Voltaire in his play of 1755 called
L'Orphelin de la Chine (or “Confucian morals in five
acts”) actually utilized as the basis for his plot the
translation of a Chinese drama that had been published
by Du Halde. Voltaire's play, which was extremely
popular on the contemporary stage, celebrates the
triumph of Chinese civilization over the barbarous
Mongols. Voltaire's drama was also an indirect attack
upon Rousseau's adulation of the primitive and un-
spoiled society. The essayists of the Encyclopédie wrote
at length on Chinese customs and compared them to
those prevailing in Europe and in other parts of the
world. In most of these comparisons China's practices
almost always win high honor for their rationality,
refinement, and good taste.