CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


SMENTEK, Kristel
European Classicism and Chinese Art

Session 21 Connecting Art Histories and World Art

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Productive challenges to art history’s dominant canons require critical examination of the suppressions entailed in their formation. Using French case studies, this paper focuses on how the European classical canon, consolidated in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,was subtly negotiatedthroughencounters with imports from China and understandings of China’s great antiquity.

Fromdiscussions of Chinese art in late seventeenth-centuryFrench texts of the ancients and modern debate,to the replication of ancient Chinese bronze forms at the Sevres porcelain factory in the 1770s (forms that were then sent to the Qianlong emperor in Beijing), to the presence of Chinese and Greco-Roman art in the collection of Napoleon’s art advisor, Dominique-Vivant Denon, to thenineteenth-century classicist art critic Étienne-Jean Delécluze’s laudatory commentaries onChinese painting, China’s antiquityhovered at the edgesof French imaginings of their classical past. But if it did, why has it been unacknowledged by art historians? Part of the answer must be chinoiserie, a nineteenth-century concept projected onto eighteenth-century practices, but another dimension of this occlusion is surely the geopolitics of twentieth-century Euro-American art history, an aspect of canon formation which this paper also seeks to explore.


SMENTEK, Kristel

Kristel Smentek is associate professor of art history in the department of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, USA. Her research focuses on early modern European collecting and the art market, rococo art and design, and the impact of Asian-European exchange on eighteenth-century European art and aesthetic theory. She is the author of Mariette and the Science of the Connoisseur in Eighteenth-Century Europe (2014); Rococo Exotic: French Mounted Porcelain and the Allure of the East (2007), as well as several articles on the print trade, the reception of Asian porcelain in France, and Sino-French exchange in the eighteenth century, including “Chinoiseries for the Qing: A French Gift of Tapestries to the Qianlong Emperor,” Journal of Early Modern History (2016). She is currently working on a new book on Sino-French artistic exchange entitled, Objects of Encounter: China in Eighteenth-Century France.