'A New Creation of This Dynasty': Enamels, Glass, and the Deployment of Color in Qing China, 1700-1735
At the turn of the eighteenth century, a polychrome revolution swept over Qing court arts, which saw the number of enamel colors to be applied over a porcelain surface increasing from fewer than ten, to a virtually unlimited amount. Previous research has attributed this phenomenon to the introduction of new colorants by European missionaries, yet scientific evidence suggests that color recipes could have been transferred locally from related mediums such as glass and cloisonné enamels. Building on this hypothesis, this dissertation combines material analysis and archival evidence to investigate the processes and the motivations behind the imperially-sponsored effort to create a greater range of enamel colors. Detailed analysis from workshop archives reveals how the networked and collaborative structures of the imperial workshops fostered the rapid dissemination of colorants across silicate mediums, leading to an increased chromatic range in enamels, glass, and glazes. It further demonstrates that while the Qing penchant for polychromy was partly informed by foreign contact, it also inscribed itself firmly within longstanding craft traditions and cosmological discourses in China. Reading color alternatively as an auspicious phenomenon, as a material, and as a technology, this dissertation argues that the power of the Qing state to extract and acquire color materials through tribute and trade, and to transform them into stunning finished objects, evinced technical, political, and cultural prowess. It not only sheds new light on the motivations behind the Kangxi and Yongzheng emperors’ patronage of polychrome material culture, but also examines the effects that the newly expanded palette had on contemporary viewers and on later theories on the nature and properties of color in Qing-dynasty China.
1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021
PhD defended at
Bard College, Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture
Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
Art and Culture