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On leave at the Getty 2013-2014

June 2, 2013

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be on leave 2013-2014 as a Getty Research Institute-National Endowment for the Humanities (GRI-NEH) Postdoctoral Fellow as part of the theme Connecting Seas: Artistic and Cultural Exchange for the project “Visions of the West: Rediscovering Eighteenth-Century Chinese Perspective Prints and Viewing Devices.” The list of scholars is phenomenal, and I’m honored to be among them.

Read the press release

“Visions of the West” moves away from the Qing court and Beijing to look at popular prints and imported glass-lensed viewing devices such as the optique/zograscope and peepbox particularly in southern China. It marks the beginning of a new project on eighteenth-century China’s general fascination with European visual and material culture, particularly occidentalizing works produced in China. This “occidenterie,” the Chinese equivalent to European chinoiserie, went far beyond the court, and had as much (it not more) to do with trade in the south than Jesuit presence in the north. Yet this fascination and its broad social and geographic spread have been all but forgotten except at the court.

Scholars have demonstrated that in eighteenth-century Japan, vues d’optique, veduta, perspective prints, optiques, and peepboxes arrived via both the Dutch East India Company and Chinese traders. The earliest extant Japanese viewing device images (known as karakuri-e and megane-e) included Chinese scenes from both the vertical and horizontal Suzhou perspective prints that were later replaced by Japanese scenes, strongly suggesting that the Chinese transformation of European viewing prints also inspired Japanese artists. Yet the Chinese link in the chain between Europe and Japan remains unexplored despite the thriving print market centered in Suzhou, the popularity of lenses and viewing devices there, and the eighteenth-century Chinese fascination with “occidenterie.”

Timon Screech has argued that Japanese perspective prints viewed with a peepbox constituted a public, popular viewing form mediated by the lens that became a metaphor for a distorted view of life and social status.* Did the Chinese feel the same way? How did the European viewing device prints arrive, circulate, and come to be adapted? Did lensed viewing constitute not only a foreign intervention in Chinese visuality and visual culture, but also in society? How did the foreign connotations of lenses and perspective affect the way that such occidentalizing objects were understood, and by extension, how the West itself was understood or misunderstood? How did these objects affect the development of the vertical perspective print, which not only incorporated more attention to engraving-type details, but also was treated more as a painting—a higher class of object? These are some of the questions I hope to explore using the Getty’s collection of both prints and viewing devices.

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*Screech, Timon. “The Meaning of Western Perspective in Edo Popular Culture.” Archives of Asian Art 47 (1994): 58–69.

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