Landscapes in East and West

The aim of the international symposium “Entangled Landscapes: Re-thinking the Landscape Exchange between China and Europe in the 16th–18th Centuries” (May 10–12, 2013) was to explore the transmission and reinterpretation of concepts, images, materials, technologies, and representational modes in the exchange of landscape culture between China and Europe during the Early Modern period.

Julia Orell

The symposium was characterized by its transcultural and interdisciplinary approach. Organized by Yue Zhuang, Marie Curie Fellow and Post-Doc at the URPP Asia and Europe, it brought together art historians, historians, geographers, and sinologists from Europe, the U.S., China, and Taiwan.

The symposium began with the session “Negotiation of Concepts,” which centered on garden aesthetics and the politics of landscape. In her close reading of William Temple’s Upon the Gardens of Epicurus (1685) Yue Zhuang (University of Zurich) situated the perception of Chinese gardens in English aesthetics within the contemporary discourse of vitalism. Her analysis emphasized moral values and aesthetic pleasure in the perception of the Chinese garden, which thus became a medium that enabled a return to ancient models and the ‘engineering’ of passions. Stephen Bann (Bristol University) pointed to analogies in English and Chinese gardens that precede notions of the English-Chinese landscape garden, such as gardens built by and for a community or the idea that gardens were meant to be experienced through movement with the resulting vistas imparting political values as illustrated by Yuelu Academy and New College, respectively. In addition, Bann drew attention to hostile comments on the inclusion of Chinese elements in European gardens and on the import of luxury goods that suggest a more complex history of entanglements, which not only appropriates but also rejects the exotic. Michele Fatica (University of Naples “l’Orientale”) addressed Matteo Ripa’s (1682–1746) philosophy of the Chinese garden, particularly Ripa’s emphasis on the respect for as well as the imitation of nature. Fatica demonstrated that this interpretation of Chinese gardens should be understood within the context of Enlightenment philosophy’s propagation of ‘natural rights’ and that the aesthetic success of such concepts was indebted to the circulation of Ripa’s copperplate engravings that illustrate scenes of Emperor Kangxi’s (reigned 1661–1722) garden in Jehol.

Colonialization of the Irish landscape

Turning to the sixteenth-century Tudor and Stuart re-conquest of Ireland Mark Dorrian (Newcastle University) examined how the ‘Tartar’ figured in the rhetoric of the British colonial landscape. For instance, the British claimed that the Irish did not make proper use of the land by their ‘Tartaric’ pastoralism. Such surface utilization was juxtaposed with the verticality of British cultivation and consummation that penetrates the land. The most comprehensive account of landscape as a concept was undertaken by Norman Backhaus (University of Zurich) who presented a constructivist four-pole model of landscape perception that consists of nature, culture, individual, and society. By further taking into account the process-oriented dimensions of discourse, performance, movement, and appropriation, the model is widely applicable. It allows scholars to identify emphases on aspects such as the corporeal-sensory, the aesthetic, the economic, and the ecological in landscape perception as Backhaus showed for the case of William Chambers’s A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (1772).

Unfortunately, David E. Cooper (Durham University) was unable to attend the conference. His paper promised to add a critical dimension to the discussion of nature and culture in Chinese and English garden theories, pointing out their affinities as well as their dissimilarities: Whereas Chinese concepts of nature and the garden include human presence, in Europe no similar articulations for such co-dependence of the human and the natural existed, leading Cooper to conclude that the equation of nature with wilderness in Europe prevented accounts of the human landscape until recently.

Landscapes on blue and white porcelain

Session Two, “Appropriation of Styles,” consisted of two case studies. Hui Zou (University of Florida) located Emperor Qianlong’s (reigned 1735–1796) keen interest in the labyrinth at the intersection of European linear perspective and Chinese rock art. He further related the combination of these two labyrinth types to the emperor’s playful occupation with truth and illusion, the real and the artificial, which also found expression in the realms of theater, painting, and poetry. Focusing on the gardens at Wörlitz and Oranienbaum, Sheng-Ching Chang (Fu Jen University) analyzed how late eighteenth-century garden design in Germany took up principles of the Chinese garden. Going beyond the adoption of a fashionable garden type, Chang showed how a close look at the two gardens reveals a larger context of the respective patrons’ interests in things Chinese, in the multi-cultural, and in aesthetic ideals that furthermore imply political connotations of enlightenment ideas.

Session Three, “Circulation of Landscapes,” brought together papers that engaged with the materials, techniques, and styles in landscape representations between China and Europe as well as between China and Japan. Wan Ming’s (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) paper demonstrated the particular importance of blue and white porcelain in transmitting Chinese landscape images to Europe in the sixteenth century. During this first stage, Europeans received direct albeit superficial impressions of Chinese landscape images, while in a second stage travel notes and other textual descriptions complemented the visual information and influenced principles and practices of European garden design.

Between exoticizing and familiarizing

Following the approach of a “disentangled pictorial history,” Philippe Forêt (University of St. Gallen) presented a study of Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville’s Mémoire sur la Chine (1776) vis-à-vis Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyriac de Mailla’s (1669–1748) participation in the compilation of the Kangxi Atlas (1718). Understood as an implicit carto-controversy, Forêt unravelled the complex entanglements between Chinese, Jesuit, and European surveys, geographic descriptions, and maps in order to analyze d’Anville’s defense of European geography’s claim to represent China as a response to the challenges posed by Chinese geography that had already appropriated European methods. Jennifer Purtle (University of Toronto) focused on the eighteenth-century Wittelsbach hunting lodge Falkenlust and showed how seemingly contradictory strategies in architecture, interior design, and landscaping as well as their representations can be understood within the context of falconry as a trans-cultural and diachronic practice. Arguing that “the falcon is the landscape,” because falconry makes requirements upon ecology and landscape design, Purtle examined how the architecture and interior of Falkenlust claimed a fashionable cosmopolitanism. At the same time, the landscape of the hunting lodge and its representations remained old-fashioned, because of the requirements of falconry. Focusing on the series of copperplate engravings depicting the European Baroque-style buildings commissioned by Emperor Qianlong for his Yuanming Garden, Wang Qiheng (Tianjin University) presented another case of the intermingling of European and Chinese landscape and architectural practices as well as techniques of their pictorial representation. Wang convincingly identified the artist of the copperplate engravings, Yi Lantai, as a Chinese court painter, thus providing a narrative for the gradual appropriation of European printing techniques at the imperial court. Turning to the landscape exchange within East Asia, Hans B. Thomsen (University of Zurich) explored how ink landscape painting by Shūbun (active early fifteenth century) and other Gozan monk painters created landscapes of an imaginary exotic which was identified with China. With respect to the depiction of plants in screen paintings by Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800), Thomsen furthermore argued that stylistic differentiations show strategies of exoticizing the domestic and familiarizing the foreign.

A narrative of victory and discipline

The final session, “Representational Methods and Techniques,” focused on landscape images produced for the Qing court under the emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, including maps, paintings, copperplate prints, and trompe l’oeil wall paintings. Roland Altenburger (University of Würzburg) examined the changing cultural landscape of West Lake (present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang province) in textual and cartographic representations. Highlighting structural principles in topographical accounts and map-making, he showed how traditional models of representing West Lake were continuously adjusted to new agendas and how Jesuit mapping conventions entered these practices in works produced for the Qing court. In her paper on Emperor Qianlong’s Retirement Studio in the Forbidden City, Kristina Kleutghen (Washington University of St. Louis) analyzed the tensions between the illusionism of the wall paintings and their complex layering of references. While creating a fictional garden for the retired emperor by using Western pictorial techniques, the scenes also carry auspicious symbolism and strong allusions to Han-Chinese literati culture. Kleutghen argued that this setting of scenic illusion painting allowed Emperor Qianlong to negotiate cultural and ethnic identities. Ma Ya-Chen (Tsing Hua University, Taiwan) turned toward military aspects of the Qianlong reign in her study of the copperplate prints illustrating the East Turkestan Campaign. Her detailed examination of the European pictorial techniques used, their respective modification, and reference to earlier Chinese models of battle scene representations lead to the conclusion that the prints present a careful strategy of selection and adjustment—a compromise to European pictorial practices—in order to create a narrative of victory and military discipline. The function of landscape in paintings illustrating the Qing court’s foreign relations policies was the focus of Daniel Greenberg’s (Yale University) paper. In a comparative study of two paintings he examined how the Qing court differentiated its diplomatic relationships to Mongols and Tibetans on the one hand, and general foreigners on the other hand. This differentiation affects the pictorial organization as well as the inclusion of European pictorial techniques.

Landscape as a contingent concept

The success of the symposium became manifest in the lively discussions, which further profited from the expertise of session chairs—including Klaas Ruitenbeek (Museum of Asian Art, Berlin)—as well as discussants and attendees. Reappearing topics included the historical and cultural specificity of concepts such as the ‘nature-culture’ dichotomy, the politics of landscape, and identity formation in landscape discourses. The broad range of materials and practices addressed during the symposium is thus evidence for a changing, cross-disciplinary desideratum to address the natural, the built, and the represented environment. Surprisingly, landscape painting, a major genre in both Europe and China during the period under consideration, was almost entirely absent from the symposium. Further reflection on landscape as a culturally and historically contingent concept as well as considerations with regard to our current position within a trajectory of landscape studies would have been a welcome addition.

A complementary exposition

Concurrently with the symposium, the exhibition “Constructing Qing Imperial Landscapes: Exhibition of the Yangshi Lei Archives (1644–1911)” opened at ETH Zurich. Curated by Professor Wang Qingheng (Tianjin University), a selection from the archives documents the architectural practice of the Lei family, who designed and built some of the most important buildings for the Qing court. The exhibition not only provided a vivid picture of the design and engineering processes, but also addressed the different environments (cityscapes, gardenscapes, funeralscapes, Europeanscapes) and their respective significance for Qing identity faced with the challenges of modernity. In this way, the exhibition complemented the issues addressed in the symposium.

(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 3/2014, pp. 11–13)