In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, China exercised a considerable influence on European culture.
Since the first encounters almost immediately began a vast Jesuit literature on China to which European philosophers, writers, and artists drew increasingly.
What does Chinoiserie mean?
Chinoiserie was the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese artistic traditions, especially in philosophy, decorative arts, architecture, paintings, and literature.
In 1615, the report of Matteo Ricci’s work, De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, was published in Augsburg. It soon was translated into a number of other European languages.
Read ‘De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas’ by Matteo Ricci
In 1654 the Jesuit Father Martini published a history of the Manchurian conquest of China (De Bello Tartarico Historia).
Read De Bello Tartarico Historia by Martino Martini
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In 1655, Novus Atlas Sinensis by Martino Martini appeared as part of volume 10 of Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior.
In 1662 the Daxue and Lunyu were translated into Latin.
In 1687 the first compendium of the Confucian philosophy and the Chun-yung were published. A large number of monographs circulated between 1702 and 1791.
The most interested readers were French libertines and illuminists.
The Enlighteners proposed a highly idealized Catholicism based on natural morality, secular but not atheist, tolerant, inspiring of a just and open society. This new cultural climate favors a cosmopolitan spirit (the observation of the resemblance between the ways in which the various peoples worship God).
With Voltaire in 1740 the synophilia reaches its climax, while Rosseau is a disdainful opponent.
Heirs of the sinophile tradition are the physiocrats. One of the integral parts of physiocracy, laissez faire, was adopted from Quesnay’s writings on China, being a translation of the Chinese term wu wei [wikipedia].
In the meantime, the mania for chinoiserie spreads throughout Europe, preparing the transition to the Baroque.
Chinese porcelain began to spread, used in combination with other exotic substances, at the time still recently introduced, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate, or used as an ornamental material.
The introduction of porcelain pushes European glassmakers to imitate it. In 1712, many of the elaborate Chinese porcelain manufacturing secrets were revealed throughout Europe by the French Jesuit father Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles and soon published in the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de Chine par des missionnaires jésuites.
Read ‘ Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de Chine par des missionnaires jésuites’ by Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles
In addition to porcelain, the lacquers were also valued. At the end of the 1600s, they began to make good imitations, especially in France.
Oriental silks and wallpaper are also imported and imitated.
Even architecture is not exempt from Chinese stylistic influence; Chinese architectural elements are introduced in Rococo constructions. The architecture of parks and gardens is not immune to this influence.
In the mid-eighteenth century, however, the taste for chinoiserie begins to decline, even for the lack of information, due to the dissolution of the Society of Jesus and the sudden circulation of travel memories written by sailors and merchants where the Chinese are often depicted as petty and servile.
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it and China-underground.com.