The Chinese Impact is a five-year research project that examines images of China in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century. An interdisciplinary group of art historians, historians, and sinologists explores how early cultural contacts gave rise to images that developed into stereotypes, some of which remain relevant to the present day. The European perspective is complemented with an Asian one: How did the Chinese see the Dutch?    

China holds a special place in the European imagination. The Chinese economy, politics and culture are increasingly attracting foreigners, but preconceptions and stereotypes often distort the European perspective. This is not a new dynamic. It is rooted in the first period of intensive contacts, the 17th century, when the Low Countries were the European hub for products from and images of China, shaping Western conceptions that persist to the present day.

This research program pioneers the comprehensive study of China’s impact on low and high culture in the Netherlands, from the Chinese ceramics in Rembrandt’s studio to the popular comparison of Spinoza to Confucius. It establishes how the self-image of the fledgling Dutch Republic was honed in the Chinese mirror, from Delftware imitations of porcelain to ideals of religious toleration and republicanism. Historians have neglected the 17th-century Low Countries because they failed to analyze art and ideas in an integrated manner. Only interdisciplinary study does justice to the mutually dependent images by craftsmen and scholars from the Netherlands which were widely influential. Understanding the development of these popular stereotypes enlightens Chinese-Western relations that continue to be relevant in a globalized world.

Four sub-projects

Building on and critically elaborating the method of imagology, four closely related projects chart the process of image formation in a comprehensive manner. The first project analyzes relevant prints and porcelain depicting Chinese themes and styles, foregrounding Johan Nieuhof’s (1618-1672) illustrations. The second project studies textual sources from the viewpoint of intellectual history, singling out Isaac Vossius’s (1618-1689) writings. The third project explores Chinese reactions to Netherlandish art and scholarship, emphasizing the role of Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688). The fourth, synthesis project analyzes art, ideas, and the perspective from China in a comparative manner, thereby criticizing traditional imagology and the related approach of Orientalism.

Art history at Utrecht University

The project is chaired by prof. Thijs Weststeijn and housed by the department of Art History at Utrecht University, an eminent center for studying and teaching the art of the Low Countries. The project is funded by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (VIDI Innovative Research Incentives Scheme) and involves three partner institutions:

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Thijs-weststeijn    Willemijn-van-noord
Prof.dr. Thijs Weststeijn Dr. Lennert Gesterkamp Trude Dijkstra MA
Willemijn van Noord MA

Guest Researchers

Geert-Jan Janse MA Menno Jonker MA Prof. Michael Keevak Wenjie Su MA
Dr. Sun Jing

Advisory Board

Lia van Gemert
Professor of History of Dutch Literature
University of Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Anne Gerritsen
Professor of Asia-Europe
Intercultural Dynamics
Leiden University
The Netherlands
Frans Grijzenhout
Professor of Art History
University of Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Stacey Pierson
Senior Lecturer in Chinese Ceramics
SOAS University of London
United Kingdom
Nicolas Standaert
Professor of Sinology
University of Leuven
Hilde de Weerdt
Professor of Chinese History
Leiden University
The Netherlands

Partner institutions: