As global trade increased in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more Europeans became enthralled with visions of Cathay, as China was popularly known. Chinoiserie, the ornamentation featured on the tapestries and door in this installation, is an enchanting decorative motif depicting imaginary and whimsical interpretations of life in Asia.
An 18th-century European concept, chinoiseries typically present exotic figures clothed in flowing robes and elaborate headdresses, and situated in fantastical landscape settings. Whether these figures represent people of China, India, the Middle East, or Japan is often difficult to determine; they are a mélange of peoples referring not to geographical and cultural boundaries so much as to a general concept of Asia.
A blend of factual travel accounts, atlases, myth, and fantasy, the scenes in these four tapestries from the museum’s collection offer a wealth of iconographic images to study and explore.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.