Willemijn van Noord’s research for the Chinese Impact project focuses on the reception of Chinese material culture in relation to perceptions of China in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. During this period, the Low Countries were a hub for products from and images of China and as such they helped shape European conceptions of the so-called Middle Kingdom. But how was the use and interpretation of material culture linked to the formation of images and ideas of China?

This question is explored through case studies, focusing on individual or groups of objects that highlight several aspects of the Dutch reception of Chinese material culture. Constantijn Huygens’ (1596-1687) discussion of an inscribed Coromandel lacquer screen owned by Mary Stuart II (1662-1694) sheds light on how the Dutch thought the Chinese viewed them as well as the images they had of the Chinese and of themselves: demeaning the superior Chinese arts for mere adornment with no understanding of the excellent Chinese language and the wisdom it communicated. Correspondence of various scholars concerning a Han dynasty bronze mirror in the collection of Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717) deploys this artifact as a tool in discussions concerning the position of China’s ancient civilization in European chronology and whether Chinese script held the key to constructing a Universal Language. The interpretations of both of these inscribed objects convey a fascination with Chinese script. This fascination is also expressed in the collecting of (excerpts of) Chinese books during this period – when no one in the Dutch Republic was able to read the language – and the amount of Dutch books discussing or depicting characters. Furthermore, the application of “pseudo-Chinese” characters as a new decorative design on Delftware ceramics – which had been developed in imitation of Chinese porcelain –point to an admiration of the script outside the scholarly realm. The selections Dutch artisans made from Chinese originals (e.g. porcelain) to create their own versions of Chinese objects (e.g. Delftware), sheds light on which aspects were considered vital to producing a Chinese-looking object. Similarly, the features tile makers selected from illustrations of Chinese scenes to portray Chinese figures on tin-glazed tiles illuminate what was considered to be essentially Chinese.

 

Willemijn van Noord is a PhD candidate in Art History at the Chinese Impact project. She received Bachelor degrees in both Archaeology and Chinese Studies from Leiden University. After finishing her Master in Sinology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London), she worked as a trainee curator of Chinese collections at the British Museum and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery where she researched and curated Ming dynasty (1368-1644) ceramics as well as Qing dynasty (1644–1912) glass and snuff-bottles. She is interested Chinese material culture within global history and its reception history in Europe in particular.