Christopher Johns Examines Chinoiserie in the Context of Church and State Politics

christopherjohnschinaChristopher Johns, Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Professor of History of Art, has written a groundbreaking study that examines chinoiserie—European works of art and visual culture that were influenced by Chinese art—in the context of church and state politics, with particular focus on the Catholic missions’ impact on Western attitudes toward China and the Chinese.  In his book,  China and the Church: Chinoiserie in Global Context, recently published by the University of California Press,  Johns demonstrates that the emperor’s 1722 prohibition against Catholic evangelization, which occurred after almost 150 years of tolerance, prompted a remarkable change in European visualizations of China in Roman Catholic countries.

China and the Church considers the progress of Christianity in China during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, examines authentic works of Chinese available to the European artists who produced chinoiserie, and explains how the East Asian male body in Western art changed from “normative” depictions to whimsical, feminized grotesques after the collapse of the missionary efforts during the 1720s.

Johns noted that the seed of his book project was “planted in the gorgeous gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the famed imperial residence of the Habsburg dynasty,”  in 2007, where he and a colleague “both noticed the omnipresence of East Asian art works and of objects produced in Europe but inspired by the Chinese and Japanese originals available to Western artists from a wide variety of sources.”

Their discussions continued long after leaving Vienna and ultimately led to an invitation to help direct a two-week seminar at the University of Kansas in the spring of 2009.  As the Franklin Murphy Visiting Professor, Johns presented material on baroque and eighteenth-century chinoiserie to the seminar students paired with one public lecture at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas and another at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.  These seminar meetings and public lectures formed the basis of the present book.

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