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The circulation of enamelled objects between France and China (mid-17th - mid-19th century): Technological, cultural and diplomatic interactions

by Lemardelé Élise - published on

Principal Investigators : Bing ZHAO, CNRS, CRCAO UMR 8155, Paris (France)
Guangyao WANG, Institute of Archaeology, Beijing Palace Museum, Beijing, China

The aim of this project is to offer a representative historical study of the circulation of enamelled objects and enamelling techniques between France and China from the end of the 17th to the mid 19th century. It consists in concurrent and interdisciplinary research conducted by an international and multidisciplinary team around enamelled objects of all media, produced in France or China, and held in the collections of the Beijing Palace and French museums. It will include contributions from the innovative exploitation of archaeological, textual, visual and physicochemical documents. In this respect it is an interconnected study in two ways: first, from the point of view of the transfer of techniques between crafts, because it abandons the traditional approaches that are confined to a specific object type and medium or decorative technique in favour of a cross-sectional study of the different enamelling techniques; and secondly, from a spatial point of view, since this is the first time that the most eminent Chinese and French specialists are working in collaboration to reflect on the possible links between technical practices of enamelling in France and China. In addition, this transnational study is distinguished by the use and comparison of two totally new sets of data: the Chinese and French archives on the one hand and the physicochemical data on the other.
Research will be organized around three main themes: the first, "Identification, restoration and reconstruction: objects as sources", focuses on studying the Chinese and French enamels of the Beijing Palace and French museum collections, and will combine contributions from archaeology, stylistic studies, restoration and physiochemical analyses; the second, "Texts and techniques", brings together works on written sources and examines the relevance of the different categories of sources, in particular manuscripts, for understanding craft techniques; the third, "Transfers, techniques and territories", will look at the transmission of finishing techniques both between the different craft professions and between China and France in order to define the various types of circulation of enamelled objects.
The main outcomes expected from this project concern three broad fields: a) Research: with the constitution of two corpuses of Chinese and French archives related to the circulation of enamelled objects and enamelling techniques between France and China, the creation of a textual database on the circulation of enamelled objects between France and China, and a bilingual physicochemical database of studied enamels; the publication of the results in international scientific journals; annual workshops and closing conferences in Beijing and Paris; the cataloguing of Chinese and European enamels from the Beijing Palace Museum; b) Education: by training students both in France and in China in the comparative history of craft techniques through the constitution and analysis of different archival collections; by teaching them new methods for the non-destructive analysis of enamelled objects both in laboratories and in museums; c) Public visibility: through the publication of both corpuses of Chinese and French archives in China and France; the Chinese translation of reference works on French enamels; with a series of public lectures held in the premises of the project’s partner museums in Beijing and France concerning the exchanges between France and China around enamelled objects; exhibitions at the Beijing Palace Museum and in France, and probably in other European countries as well, with catalogues and a volume synthesising the research on the circulation of enamelled objects.