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Alden Cavanaugh and Michael E. Yonan

That Precious Object: Porcelain as Metaphor We begin not in the eighteenth century but the nineteenth, with Henry Jamess novel The Portrait of a Lady. The worldly Madame Merle, a collector of antique porcelain, describes herself in the following passage:
Its very true; there are more iron pots, I think, than porcelain ones. But you may depend upon it that every one has something; even the hardest iron pots have a little bruise, a little hole, somewhere. I flatter myself that I am rather stout porcelain; but if I must tell you the truth I have been chipped and cracked! I do very well for service yet, because I have been cleverly mended; and I try to remain in the cupboardthe quiet, dusky cupboard, where there is an odour of stale spicesas much as I can. But when I have to come out, and into a strong light, then, my dear, I am a horror!1

Directed at Isabel (the lady of the novels title), Madame Merles porcelain metaphor is a warning that things are not as they seem. Comparing the delicate porcelain with the heavy, nondescript, utilitarian iron teapot that represents the mundane life she has always avoided, Madame Merle compares herself to a cleverly mended but still valuable object. She also compares herself to the younger and innocent Isabel.2 But a darker meaning is conveyed by the references to clever mending and hiding in the dusky cupboard. Madame Merles quotidian object, imbued with a consciousness, lies in wait, as Madame Merle herself waits to reveal herself as the longtime lover of Isabels husband, Osmond. This intriguing passage is not the only time James uses porcelain metaphorically. Later in The Portrait of a Lady, the grasping Ned Rosier, who wants to add Osmonds daughter Pansy to his collection of beautiful objects, conceals his desire under a surface suggesting sprigged porcelain: that is, primly conventional and entirely

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innocuous, perhaps even a bit effeminate.3 But by far the most ominous appearance of porcelain occurs in a confrontation between Osmond and Madame Merle:
He got up, as he spoke, and walked to the chimney, where he stood a moment bending his eye, as if he had seen them for the first time, on the delicate specimens of rare porcelain with which it was covered. He took up a small cup and held it in his hand; then, still holding it and leaning his arm on the mantel, he continued: You always see too much in everything; you overdo it; you lose sight of the real. I am much simpler than you think. I think you are very simple. And Madame Merle kept her eye upon her cup. I have come to that with time. I judged you, as I say, of old: but it is only since your marriage that I have understood you. I have seen better what you have been to your wife than I ever saw what you were for me. Please be very careful of that precious object. It already has a small crack, said Ormond, dryly, as he put it down.4

The icily restrained conversation, barely hiding enormous underlying bitterness, recalls the porcelain metaphor Madame Merle used earlier to describe herself. The threat that Osmond will break her precious object, the delicate cup symbolic of her own self-image as cultured and valuable, is unspoken. When she begs him to be careful, he scoffs that the cup, that she, is similarly damaged, and no longer desirable.5 Jonathan Freedman has noted that it is as much Madame Merles internal transformation from someone characterized by cold aestheticism to regretful emotionality that causes Osmond to reject her.6 James metaphorical use of porcelain can be found throughout his literary output, as well as in the work of his contemporaries. Another example occurs in his novel The Golden Bowl, where the bowl in question is not solid but gilded porcelain, a symbol interpreted by Eileen H. Watts as symbolic of the husband in whom the protagonist Maggie becomes disillusioned when she discovers his infidelity.7 Watts has read the bowls significance in a broader sense, as a metaphor not only for the inconstant spouse but an entire life ultimately revealed to be a sham. Furthermore, The Golden Bowl includes a scene featuring a colorful garden pagoda whose walls are covered with gleaming porcelain plates. The imposingly tall, glittering pagoda, which Maggie continually walks around but cannot enter since it has no door, has been read as a metaphor for her husbands adulterous relationship. In Amy Lings discussion, the pagoda exists in Maggies own garden, symbolic of her life, as a striking, foreign presence that she cannot fully apprehend, but is forced to confront daily.8 The rare and intricate porcelain plating of the interior-less structure, which Watts characterizes as the inscrutable space between the garden and the pagoda, is the unknowable zone where the truth about Maggies marriage is located.9 James here again develops porcelain as a metaphor for fragile humanity, or

Alden Cavanaugh and Michael E. Yonan

even for human desire itself. In the world he created, porcelain served as not simply as a luxurious possession or an item of novelistic set-dressing but as a conveyor of social, cultural, and especially psychological meaningsand often it is these very ideas that form the framework of the novels themselves, which often deal with issues of appearances and propriety, as well as the vulnerable and ephemeral nature of human happiness. How can we explain the prevalence of the porcelain metaphor in Jamess literary output, as well as the work of his contemporaries? What is it about porcelain that inspires writers to use it time and again to speak of intimate things, things close to the heart, or the body? What these nineteenth-century examples share is the tendency to imbue porcelain with ideas of value, whether in terms of human relationships, economic situations, or questions of taste. Versatile in its ability to conjure the fragility of egos or the tenuousness of relationships, as well as the futility of obsession with possessions, the figure of porcelain in literature speaks eloquently of human subjectivity, particularly where it concerns what human beings hold dear. Where did these ideological connections originate, and why do they strike us as unusual today? Addressing these questions requires moving back from the nineteenth century to the eighteenth, to a historical moment when porcelain acquired many of the associations that have both followed it into the modern world and been conquered by new ways of thinking about art, materiality, and human manufacture.

Porcelain and Art Historical Disciplinarity If for James porcelain metaphorized the social being in a larger sense, art historians have largely tucked porcelain out of sight, like Madame Merles teapot. The scholarly study of porcelain, while long and distinguished, has never quite reached the vibrancy and extent of writings on early modern painting and sculpture. This is a curious situation given eighteenth-century Europes fascination with porcelain, the sheer amount it produced and sold, and the recurrent references to it in the periods social and artistic discourses. Affluent Europeans amassed sizeable collections of imported East Asian porcelain, and after the Meissen manufactory developed the skill to replicate Asian techniques in Europe, collectors could also accumulate local products. With the exceptions of tapestry and silver, no artistic medium was more coveted or valuable to the eighteenth-century collector. The language that grew around porcelain claimed for it a complex series of cultural associations deriving largely from its inability to be fully comprehended and its origins in distant, exotic lands. Porcelain therefore evoked multiple desires, and moreover insecurities, about European cultural predominance as well as its collective identity. The continents skill in the realms of art and material productivity,

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its economic supremacy, and its intelligence all seemed challenged by the influx of exquisitely crafted porcelain objects from afar. For these reasons, eighteenth-century porcelain assumed the status of a semi-magical material, a White Gold whose secrets all European collectors desired to possess, even as Enlightenment-inspired views of a rational, scientifically based understanding of manufacturing coexisted with it. The modern critical literature has explained the eighteenth-centurys fascination with porcelain only occasionally as the result of such intense cultural investment, as emergent from widespread mythologies of knowledge and being. The result is that porcelains appeal is often assumed rather than analyzed, its value presented as an a priori fact rather than understood as historically constituted and culturally maintained. Moreover, porcelain reveals major disciplinary assumptions and critical predispositions that indicate art historians lingering discomfort with assigning complex cultural meanings to certain classes of objects. This hesitation may be an outgrowth of porcelains less exalted role in our modern world; although heritage porcelain like Svres and Meissen remains expensive and collectable, consumers can buy cheaply produced porcelain objects in almost any discount store, and we use it for a variety of mundane needs, from lining our showers to capping our teeth, that seem inferior to the continued respect we accord easel painting. Our disciplinary insecurity also derives from porcelain objects seemingly inapt application of decorative sophistication to utilitarian objects, a mixing that blurs the connection between art and tool that art historians have been eager to uncouple. Porcelain remains at odds with art historys self-image as a discipline concerned with the significant cultural processes manifested in great art characterized by functionessless, seriousness, and aesthetic detachment. One might call this phenomenon the fear of the tchotchke, the concern of thinking too much about insignificant things or, yet worse, of overvaluing objects more kitschy than artistic. Such fears, we feel, continue to pervade art historical practice despite the broadening of methodological perspectives that characterizes much recent scholarship. Those fears additionally prevent us from fully understanding references like Henry Jamess about Madame Merle, or worse mischaracterize them as superficial sentimentalism. This collection of essays repositions eighteenth-century porcelain within new interpretative frameworks in order to break through these disciplinary limitations. We seek to open porcelain to a wider range of social and psychological possibilities than has heretofore been done and thereby expose it to the kind of analytical and theoretical rigor routinely applied to painting and sculpture. It is our belief that porcelain is worthy of thick description, to use Clifford Geertzs famous formulation, and this volume takes as a grounding claim that a porcelain vase or bowl carries just as much cultural meaning as a painting or building, a concept echoed in some recent scholarship on material culture.10 Recognizing this, we believe, reveals an enticingly wide

Alden Cavanaugh and Michael E. Yonan

range of semantic possibilities for eighteenth-century porcelain than has been investigated previously. As our title indicates, however, we are interested as well in porcelains aesthetics, its physical and visual characteristics, particularly the way its material qualities reinforce the social processes within which objects were viewed, collected, described, and used. Our term cultural aesthetics, then, points to both the larger discursive fields in which porcelain existed and also the specific design qualities characteristic of individual objects. Indeed, in their interrelationship lies perhaps the most constructive avenue for future study of the decorative arts as a whole and porcelain specifically.

Scholarly Perspectives One hallmark of our approach is that we have sought to complicate the history of porcelain by de-emphasizing technical advancements as a component of its interpretation. The history of eighteenth-century porcelain is often told as one of technological progress, as an increasingly shifting narrative of new methods and processes. There is no question that manufacturing advancements form a major component of porcelains history, and that improvements in production undergird porcelains accessibility and market appeal. Pre-seventeenth century European ceramics were typically heavy, darkly colored, thickly glazed, and roughly textured objects. They were inelegant to use and their porosity rendered them difficult to clean. As European contact with Asia increased through trade, European ceramics came to appear notably inferior to their Far Eastern equivalents, especially when the newly fashionable beverages of coffee, tea, and chocolate demanded ceramics that were lightweight, that retained warmth, and that did not adulterate delicate flavors. True hard-paste porcelain had been made in China since at least the ninth century and a substantial manufactory for it had been established in the city of Jingdezhen by the Five Dynasties Period (907960).11 It was there that the process of making hard paste porcelain was perfected. This involved combining petuntse, a feldspathic rock common to eastern China, with kaolin clay, a silicate mineral. The two substances were ground, combined in specific proportions, and then fired at an extremely high temperature of around 1250 C until fused. Although this technique was not replicated in Europe until the experiments of Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (16511708) and Johann Friedrich Bttger (1682 1719) at Meissen in the first decade of the eighteenth century, European ceramicists had tried to approximate it for centuries. Italian white-painted majolica mimics the color palette of Chinese porcelain without attaining its translucence and delicacy, while experiments with various combinations of rock and glass, known generally as soft-paste porcelain, were undertaken well into the eighteenth century.

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Concentrating on the history of manufacturing has advantage of showing how much care and attention was placed into making porcelain, as well as underscoring the manifold difficulties involved in producing it. The superb and ambitious catalogue to the Porcelain Stories exhibition, held at the Seattle Museum of Art in 2000, mostly explores this angle, as does a wide range of museum-based literature.12 While this perspective provides much of interest, and Porcelain Stories in particular is an essential source for understanding how East Asian and European porcelain mutually influenced each other, technical questions are only one aspect of porcelains historical significance. Privileging it draws attention away from the materials conceptual and metaphorical values, the kinds of ideas important to those eighteenth-century consumers who perhaps cared little about its true manner of production. Indeed, even as porcelains production techniques were perfected in the eighteenth century, various fantastic and mythical conceptions of its origins and powers persisted and this suggests that the material itself triggered cultural responses on its own terms. Madame Merle alone demonstrates as much. Recent decades have seen increased sophistication in the critical perspectives brought to eighteenth-century art, within which porcelain has emerged as particularly interesting to scholars of the periods economic, especially proto-capitalist, cultures. Indeed, as scholars have placed the processes of consumerism and consumption under great scrutiny, luxury goods like porcelain have attained singular importance.13 This scholarship often applies sociohistorical and postcolonial approaches to porcelains transmission, purchase, and collecting. An example of this kind of work is Sarah Richardss Eighteenth-Century Ceramics, a much-needed analysis of the social uses to which ceramics were placed in British culture, and one that ranges beyond porcelain to ceramic objects of all kinds.14 The result is a multifaceted picture of how such materials operated in European domestic, civic, and courtly circles. Richardss work is particularly important for the links it makes between increasingly systematized techniques of ceramic production with emergent Enlightenment notions of everyday life. Another key study concerned with commercial questions is Robert Finlays important article on the international culture that developed around the export of Chinese porcelains.15 Finlay demonstrates at length that the porcelain trade was a global phenomenon that transcended local patterns of exchange and that porcelain reflected this in the fusion of influences found in its design. Finlay calls for understanding porcelain as part of a global ceramics culture involving Asia, Africa, and Europe.16 The story of how Europe and China in particular developed interconnected patterns of exchange within which porcelain played a special role, is a particularly fascinating chapter of European history, one also explored at length in the Porcelain Stories exhibition. The importation of Chinese goods forever changed European ideas about itself, its material culture, and its relation to the world, aspects of European identity that permeated European

Alden Cavanaugh and Michael E. Yonan

culture at all levels via the proliferation of ceramics in society. Much additional scholarship has followed these general lines of inquiry, and Richardss and Finlays studies represent only a sample from a growing literature on the commodification of eighteenth-century culture.17 The important exhibition catalogue Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts, ca. 171063, edited by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, likewise explores porcelain as an object of political and diplomatic value, and does so with much new information about how porcelain functioned within patterns of courtly ritual and ambassadorial exchange.18 A key interpretative component to many of these studies has been porcelains origins in China and likewise the role that it played in eighteenth-century conceptions of the Far East, a phenomenon known as chinoiserie. Chinoiserie was a complicated social process that involved both absorption of Chinese ideas and products into European culture as well as the projection of various urgencies, be they economic, cultural, or philosophical, onto a fictional image of the distant Chinese empire. China lay far enough from Europe to complicate the kinds of specific knowledge through travel that was possible with North Africa and the Middle East, and in contrast to the common view of American cultures, eighteenth-century thinkers acknowledged China as an ancient and prosperous empire whose achievements paralleled European sophistication. As David Porter has argued, Chinas persistent unintelligibility made it, as well as its art, a useful screen upon which to project European cultural tensions.19 Certainly porcelain played a special role within chinoiserie, since it more than any other material informed the sorts of perceptions that European consumers held about China, not least because porcelain so thoroughly surpassed traditional European earthenware ceramics in its translucence and lightness. In porcelains relation to chinoiserie lie perhaps the richest possibilities for interpreting its cultural significance to eighteenth-century Europe. This can be seen by looking at a drawing attributed to one of the centurys great proponents of chinoiserie, Franois Boucher, which is now housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Plate 1).20 This scene purports to represent two Chinese men serving tea. Utilizing the red chalk medium so popular in the early eighteenth century, Boucher sets a scene in a fragmented rococo space. We know we are viewing a mythical China because of various clues: the dress, hairstyles, and facial characteristics of the figures harmonize with European stereotypes of Chinese appearances; a magot de la Chine sits at the compositions top, intended perhaps to represent the god of happiness; and underneath him hangs a small sign covered with hatched marks that may have invoked Chinese script.21 The two figures share a moment in front of a stove as one pours from a teapot into a cup held in the others outstretched hand. Although the exact story being told here is uncertain, the offering of tea, as well the seated figures proto-military dressa shield rests in the foreground next to him, while a

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quiver filled with arrows is behind himencourages us to imagine this tea as a refreshment after labors of some kind, a pleasing moment perhaps after the strains of battle. It also is an opportunity for sociability as the seated figure gestures with his right hand to his companion. Yet the works inherited title takes us away from this story to an entirely different level of meaning: it has been called The Element of Fire, a description that locates it in an entirely more metaphorical, even transcendental realm. If this is fire, then fire is both Chinese and familiar; it is the source of companionship and nourishment, and perhaps of life itself. Ceramics play a central role in this image, whose composition is organized around the teacup, saucer, and teapot positioned at its exact center. Not only has fire enabled the warm water that makes tea possible, its heat transforms dry leaves into a delicious drink, while that same fire also makes possible the porcelain out of which teacup and pot themselves are made. There exists a slippage, then, between drink and container, with the trajectory of transformation to a state of pleasure implied in multiple ways. Porcelain does not function here as a sign of good taste, but rather of a metamorphosis brought about by a magical process, one that takes the plain and useless and modifies them into the delightful and beautiful. This observation recalls Finlays observation that placing clay into fire is a metaphor for divine creation and human contact with occult forces, whose mystery overlaps in Bouchers fictive world with the distance and unfamiliarity of China.22 We should not be surprised, given the historical and critical link between porcelain and an ethnic Other, to find another important connection between porcelain and a gendered Other, namely women. Some of the most sophisticated scholarship about porcelain comes from scholars of literature, and often it is the consumption of tea that links the spheres of these two unknowable groups. In particular, the work of Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace has illuminated the intersection of women, porcelain, and various kinds of commodity consumption in eighteenth-century culture.23 Though it does not address porcelain specifically, her essay, Tea, Gender, and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century England, makes clear that the habit and ritual of tea-drinking were gendered, and, further, that the equipment of the tea table held a particular appeal, being, on one hand, symbolic of womens civilizing influence, but on the other, of unseemly female dominance, gossip and even financial ruin.24 As part of the equipage of the tea table, porcelain functions within this gendered sphere as both a comforting substance and a sign of female luxury. KowaleskiWallace explores porcelain specifically in her book, Consuming Subjects: Women, Shopping and Business in the Eighteenth Century. Within the context of the tea table as a site of performance, and with tea and sugar as other major players, Kowaleski-Wallace reads china as an intricately symbolic substance linked closely to women:

Alden Cavanaugh and Michael E. Yonan

A womans close proximity to china thus enabled a semiotic process that allowed her to be read as a particular kind of surface: like the china she holds in her lovely hands, the woman at the tea table is flawless and delicate. She is aesthetically perfect, yet also sometimes appears hollow and empty, waiting to be filled. Her perfect surface makes her appear superior, yet, after all, she is ultimately made of clay; she is of this world, merely mortal. Also, like the frangible item she holds in her hands, she can be molded into shape, made to assume the pose or attitude that best expresses her familys status.25

Surface, then, is the shared quality between women and china, as is the capacity to be at once significant and trivial. Kowaleski-Wallace evokes the shared situation of women and china as elaborate, fantastic creations whose performances are highly choreographed; one imagines the sweeping curve of a teapots handle echoed in the elegant arc of a ladys arm.26 Given the important role played by porcelain in period representations of domestic life, this artistic medium played as important a role in fictional spaces as it did in real ones. This is not to say that porcelain was always gendered feminine, but that its status as an exogenous material associated with Asia allowed it to stand in easily for the centuries various Others, including women.

Porcelain, Materiality, and Art History The range of subjects treated in this volume is widesugar bowls, human figurines, tea services, pickle trays, candelabra, even roomsyet they are connected by their use of specific kind of ceramic. Therefore the material itself is the focus of this study as much as the objects constructed out of that material, and we wish this collection to open up additional new possibilities for theorizing the relationship between medium and meaning in art historical writing. The importance of medium has in recent decades been overshadowed by greater interest in iconographic and semiotic concerns, a situation that has emerged in conjunction with the growing interdisciplinary interest in visual culture as an outgrowth of and contestation to traditional art history. To the scholar of visual culture, studying art is too limiting, since it smacks of elitism and proves inadequate for understanding the immense diversity and complexity of visual information encountered routinely in the contemporary world. Visual culture therefore studies the proliferation of all images in society, be they painted, photographed, printed, or electronically produced, thereby including many modes of visual communication that traditionally would have been superfluous to art historical attention.27 Although the impetus for such scholarly change has its roots in contemporary culture, many art historians currently define their investigations into the art of the past as explorations of visual culture,


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in the hopes that doing so expands and diversifies the subject of their inquiry. Such a perspective has been incipient in Anglo-American art history for decades due to the disciplines predilection toward painting as the privileged subject of art historical study, a focus that has frequently diverted attention from cultural products less conducive to categorizing as images, among them porcelain objects. And yet this turn to the visual carries with it a price, namely that conceiving of art history as a discipline of images threatens to dematerialize the work of art, to reduce all forms of visuality to a scopic process attentive to ethereal visual forms. Of course, the best work in visual culture avoids this pitfall, but it remains a troubling possibility for scholars invested in art not easily reducible to image status. This situation inflects the purpose of this book in a number of ways. Although certainly some porcelain products aspire to sculptural status and others are of course bearers of images, many of the objects discussed in this book steadfastly insist on their own materiality as things.28 Porcelain was used to make objects with ostensibly functional or utilitarian purposes, as well as objects that overlap the categories of art and tool. Objects made of porcelain were also combined with other materials like metal, wood, and lacquer into composite creationsindeed, the marchands merciers of eighteenth-century Paris made an industry of such assemblagesand its aesthetic qualities, particularly its translucent white glow, was referenced by artists working in completely different media. Porcelain seems to have been chosen for such products because of the diverse and appealing cultural meanings it brought to design, and its aesthetic qualities permeated cultural arenas well beyond those in which ceramics played a direct role. In the essays collected in this volume, the materiality of porcelain plays a central role in the meanings explored both in their original eighteenth-century settings as well as their modern critical ones. Our book attempts therefore to reinforce an art history that is focused on art as a material object, a scholarly practice that assesses the visual qualities of art while insisting on the cultural significance of its of materiality. In this respect we echo Carol Armstrong, who notes that art history has traditionally hesitated before acknowledging the materiality of its subject, a fear that to consider, to value, or to pleasure in the materiality of a made object is to exercise the fetishism of the old art history as part of an old contempt for material crafting, the surface, and the superficial, as well as the old privileging of the verbal register that went with the traditional humanist notions of idea or ut pictura poesis, or with the iconographics of the old art history.29 Armstrong notes further that The material dimension of objects is, in my view, at least potentially a site of resistance and recalcitrance, of the irreducibly particular, and of the subversively strange and pleasurable.30 She asserts this, but our volume seeks to demonstrate that it is true. The materiality of porcelain is always part of its meaning. Porcelain is not easily reducible to the idea of a

Alden Cavanaugh and Michael E. Yonan


text, and if it has a semiotics, it is one particular to its specific material and physical constitution, as well as the historical and social values accorded it in society. For this reason, a central critical framework of this book is the academic study of material culture, the analysis of man-made artifacts as informative signs within the cultures that produced them. One might think that art history by definition should concern itself with material culture, but this turns out not to be the case. Indeed, the role of medium in producing meaning remains a secondary concern in much art historical writing. For that reason, art historians have not held a privileged role in material culture studies of the last several decades, nearly all of which have been written by anthropologists, historians, and scholars of folk culture.31 In the United States, material culture has formed a major critical framework for scholars of American art history, who utilize its techniques to study everyday objects, functional materials, and even architecture as expressions of early or non-literate American society, and indeed the major inroads into art history have occurred among Americanists.32 In Britain, the interest in material culture has been more anthropological in nature and has concentrated on both primitive cultures from Asia and Scandinavia as well as modern European and transnational social processes. Although this anthropological turn to the object has straddled the social sciences and humanities and therefore cannot be understood as a scholarly discipline as much as an intervention among and within disciplines, art history remains a curiously weak contributor.33 Perhaps art historys historical recalcitrance reveals biases that the discipline remains loath to question. Studying eighteenth-century porcelain as a material, insisting on its materiality as culturally significant, disrupts many of its foundational assumptions and encourages the redefinition of art historys central categories. First and foremost is the traditional distinction made between art and craft, the former being the result of an individual inspired genius/creator and the latter the product of skilled but essentially mechanical, often anonymous workers.34 Many porcelain objects seem to fall into the second of these divisions, despite ample evidence that eighteenthcentury viewers and collections treasured them as examples of great artistic skill and refinement. It could be that the eighteenth century did not make such distinctions as hastily as we do today. Likewise, porcelain calls into question the division between art and object, the former understood as engaging with sophisticated ideas and aesthetics while the latter remaining at the level of the functional or mundane. Attending to the medium of porcelain erodes the distinction between high culture and low culture, since as it could be used for objects that can potentially be placed into either category, from figurines of classical heroes to teacups. Many porcelain objects fit both categories at once and are hard to pigeonhole as exclusively functional or aesthetic. In her essay Object Lessons: French Decorative Art as a Model for Interdisciplinarity,


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Mimi Hellman argues just this point, and it is her call for widespread revisionist analysis of such objects that we aim to partially answer in this volume, in which we consider porcelain objects of various types, decorative and otherwise.35 Hellman sees the uneasy object (her term) as a means to observe the workings of interdisciplinarity itself.36 Echoing Hellmans concern with the objects materiality, our anthology similarly seeks to open up art history to multiple, mutually enriching frameworks that shed new light on eighteenth-century art and culture. Porcelain objects, as we shall see, permit a particularly inviting entry point for reorienting these critical frameworks. It is undeniable that the ubiquity of porcelain in the eighteenth century, its employment for so many kinds of objects and the way in which it served as an inspiration for endless cultural products and practices, played a major role in the materialization of ancien rgime society. Porcelains role in that process forms the major focus of this book. In many respects, porcelain as an artistic form transcends the traditionally defined categories of art and material culture, as well as the divisions between high and low art, decorative and meaningful, art and craft, and many other such binary oppositions used to interpret cultures. This idea has broad implications for the present study. Since porcelain as material carried a distinct set of physical associations that eighteenth-century culture valued, and indeed incorporated into its patterns of etiquette, analyzing its physical qualities bring the art historian closer to certain oblique tendencies that eighteenth-century society never articulated in words. In the essays that follow, we shall argue that these cultural and aesthetic ideas were, instead, articulated in the various shapes, textures, and colors of porcelain.

The Cultural Aesthetics of Porcelain: Essays The first three chapters in our volume engage with the intersection of porcelain with eighteenth-century conceptions of nature, and are involved with rethinking major issues. In Rethinking the Arcanum: Porcelain, Secrecy, and the Eighteenth-Century Culture of Invention, Glenn Adamson provides the contextual background for the Philadelphia manufacture, whose practice was transformed from one concerned with porcelains European roots in alchemy, to a public process imbued with nationalist and commercialist meanings. Mimi Hellmans essay, The Nature of Artifice: French Porcelain Flowers and the Rhetoric of the Garnish, addresses the delicate porcelain flowers that adorn a range of multimedia assemblages produced by the marchands merciers. Hellman argues that the porcelain blooms decorating such items, including candelabra, clocks, potpourri containers and figurines, can be read as expressive of a range of significant social and artistic meanings that far outweigh their previous interpretation as mere signifiers of elite

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consumption. Hellman reads the rhetoric of the garnish the porcelain flowers display as a gesture designed to aestheticize, nationalize, and civilize the inherent strangeness of the decorative objects they adorn. With his essay, Igneous Architecture: Porcelain, Natural Philosophy, and the Rococo cabinet chinois, Michael E. Yonan explores the use of porcelain in eighteenth-century architectural programs, paying particular attention to the kinds of theoretical and ideological concerns that medium evoked. Yonan analyzes rooms decorated with porcelain as in Empress Maria Theresas porcelain cabinets at Schnbrunn Palace in Vienna, to argue that the materials associations of artifice, human ingenuity, transformation, and divinity made visible Enlightenment conceptions of natural philosophy as well as the social standing of monarchical elites. The next three chapters are concerned with the ways in which porcelain engaged with eighteenth-century European identities, broadly defined, and address questions of ownership. Heather McPhersons essay, Marketing Celebrity: Porcelain and Theatrical Display, is concerned with the ways in which celebrity culture in eighteenth-century England was facilitated by the use of porcelain figurines of popular performers such as David Garrick and Sarah Siddons, as well as transferring theatrical imagery to the surfaces of various kinds of tableware such as plates and cups. McPherson argues that porcelains unique physical characteristics allowed for a unique bond between consumers and the theatrical world because porcelain objects emphasized sensation and brought famed performers into the domestic sphere as collectibles. Next, Erin J. Campbell analyzes an unusual object, a boxwood and ebony porcelain stand made in 1700, in her essay, Balancing Act: Andrea Brustolons La Forza and the Display of Imported Porcelain in Eighteenth-Century Venice. Campbell reads Brustolons porcelain stand, which imaginatively depicts African figures in attitudes for displaying and supporting porcelain objects, as embodying the cultural poetics of porcelain display by beings marked as quintessentially Other, reading the virtuosic treatment of stand and its porcelain as a performance of and encounter of West and East. Then, Alden Cavanaughs essay, The Queens Ncessaire, uses decoration to speculate on the levels of meaning bound up in an elaborate box of coffee, tea, and chocolate wares given by Louis XV to Marie Leszczynska on the occasion of the birth of the Dauphin in 1729. Cavanaugh argues that the ncessaire, which prominently features Asian porcelain tea wares among French-made silver-gilt vessels, figures a web of intricate meanings concerning privacy, the performance of status, and the imaginative use of objects of decorative art. The next chapter, Dawn Odells Porcelain, Print Culture and Mercantile Aesthetics, bridges the gap between European and Asian identities. Odells essay provides a transition to significant issues in our final two essays. She analyzes the imagery of Chinese export porcelains and Dutch ceramics imitating them for what they can reveal about cultural difference constructed


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in an Early Modern context. Odell argues that the commercial nature of these productions in porcelain and ceramic have long excluded them from interpretation, but their status as commodities actually makes them excellent models for pinpointing dialogues between East and West. The final two chapters in our volume engage with issues of race and ethnicity thrown into high relief by elite porcelain productions. Adrienne L. Childss essay, Sugar Boxes and Blackamoors: Ornamental Blackness in Early Meissen Porcelain, is concerned with the popularity of the so-called blackamoor figure in eighteenth-century culture. Concentrating her analysis on a Meissen covered sugar bowl depicting a female figure offering an apple from a basket, as well as other examples of works of decorative art featuring the blackamoor, Childs reads ornamental blackness in terms of its dialogues with the tradition of representing black servants and the ubiquity of black slave labor in the colonies. Our last chapter, Ties That Bind: Relations Between the Royal Academy of San Fernando and the Royal Porcelain Factory of the Buen Retiro, was written by Andrew Schulz. His work explores the eighteenthcentury Spanish desire to emulate Moorish ceramics, as documented by the Madrid royal academys project to document the Arab antiquities of Spain, most notably two large earthenware vases from the Alhambra, as well as by Charles IIIs instruction that those drawings be used as models by the royal porcelain factory he established in 1759 on the grounds of the Buen Retiro palace in Madrid. Schulz sees this episode as crucial to a larger eighteenthcentury project to incorporate the Moorish past into eighteenth-century Spanish identity. His essay argues that attending to the connections between the Academy and the Porcelain Factory during the period in which the King became interested in the Alhambra vases reveals how the two institutions would shape future production of porcelain in late eighteenth-century Spain. Taken as a whole, these essays seek to broaden the kinds of frameworks routinely applied to decorative arts while also suggesting that porcelain as a material engages with a wide range of cultural beliefs and assumptions. Recognizing this not only enriches our understanding of eighteenth-century art, but also expands the purview of art history itself into new directions, opening up new avenues for potential scholarship in the decorative arts. And maybe that precious object can finally begin to reveal all that it has to tell us about the world from which it came.

1. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady. The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, selected by Charles W. Eliot, with notes and introductions by William Allan Neilson (New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1917), ch. 19, p. 4. See J.T. Laird, Cracks in Precious Objects: Aestheticism and Humanity in The Portrait of a Lady, American Literature 52.4 (January 1981): 64348. Laird sees James as preoccupied with the conflict


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of the aesthetic and the moral. For a statistical discussion of Jamess imagery, see also Robert Gale, The Caught Image (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1964). 3. Though porcelain more commonly describes female characters, it can be applied to men. Talia Schaffer notes that the Decadent Sir Cantopher in Jamess The Sense of the Past tells Ralph, Youre very fine porcelain indeed. See Talia Schaffer, Some Chapter of Some Other Story: Henry James, Lucas Malet, and the Real Past of The Sense of the Past, The Henry James Review 17.2 (1996): 122. Virginia Woolfs short story Solid Objects also uses broken pieces of porcelain as a central motif to explore a male characters gradual disintegration, for which see Benjamin Harvey, Charles and John, or Letting Go and Holding On, Virginia Woolf Bulletin 17 (September 2004): 1726. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, ch. 49, p. 7. Laird interprets the chips and cleverly mended cracks as references as the legacy of Madame Merles suffering at the hands of the cruel Osmond. According to Lairds reading, she compensates for her damaged psyche by extreme proficiency at music, art, writing interior decoration, and fashion. Laird also notes the contrast of the hidden teapot and the cracked cup on view on the mantle. Laird, Cracks in Precious Objects, 64546. See Jonathan Freedman, Henry James, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), 16062. Freedman sees the scene in which Madame Merle and Osmond discuss the cracked cup as responding to current satires of aestheticisms preoccupation with things. Eileen H. Watts, The Golden Bowl: A Theory of Metaphor, Modern Language Studies 13.4 (Autumn 1983): 16970. Watts is particularly concerned with the ways in which The Golden Bowl dramatizes the process by which metaphor and reality are made (169). Amy Ling, The Pagoda Image in Henry Jamess The Golden Bowl, American Literature 46.3 (November 1974): 38388, is particularly sensitive to the shifting and extensive metaphorical meanings of the garden pagoda, which begin benignly but later represent Maggies growing awareness and disillusionment. Ling relates how, at one point, it was as if Maggie had tapped on the porcelain plates, and an answering sound issued from deep within the pagoda (388). Watts, The Golden Bowl, 174. Particularly richly in Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, ed. Lorraine Daston (New York: Zone, 2004). Julie Emerson, Jennifer Chen, and Mimi Gardner Gates, Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe (Seattle WA: Seattle Art Museum, in association with the University of Washington Press, 2000), 19. In addition to the Porcelain Stories catalogue, see also Howard Coutts, The Art of Ceramics: European Ceramic Design 15001830 (New Haven CT and London: Yale University Press, 2001). See also the smaller exhibition catalogue, Coffee, Tea and Chocolate Wares in the Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (Seattle WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1991). Ann Bermingham and John Brewer, eds., The Consumption of Culture: Image, Object, Text (London: Routledge, 1995). Sarah Richards, Eighteenth-Century Ceramics: Products for a Civilised Society (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1999). See also Richardss essay A True Siberia: Art in Service to Commerce in the Dresden Academy and the Meissen Drawing School, 17641836, Journal of Design History, 11.2 (1998): 10926. Robert Finlay, The Pilgrim Art: The Culture of Porcelain in World History. Journal of World History 9.2 (1998): 14187. Finlay, The Pilgrim Art, 180. In particular, see Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods (New York: Basic Books, 1979); Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1982); Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986); Bermingham and Brewer, The Consumption of Culture; John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (New York: Routledge, 1994); John Brewer and Susan Staves, eds., Early Modern Conceptions of Property (New York and London: Routledge, 1996); and Victoria de Grazia, ed., The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective (Berkeley CA and London: University of California Press, 1996).

4. 5.




9. 10. 11.


13. 14.

15. 16. 17.


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Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ed., Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts, ca. 171063. Published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center, New York (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2007). See Chapter Three, Chinoiserie and the Aesthetics of Illegitimacy, in David Porter, Ideographia: The Chinese Cipher in Early Modern Europe (Stanford CA and London: Stanford University Press, 2001). See also his Monstrous Beauty: Eighteenth-Century Fashion and the Aesthetics of the Chinese Taste, Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.3 (2002): 395411 and A Peculiar but Uninteresting Nation: China and the Discourse of Commerce in Eighteenth- Century England, EighteenthCentury Studies 3.2 (2000): 18199. Franois Boucher, The Element of Fire, c.173940 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Van Day Truex Fund, 1984.51.1). See Jacob Bean and Lawrence Turcic, 15th18th Century French Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), 35. The drawing is one of four that Boucher produced to be engraved by Pierre Aveline and published by Huquier in 1740. Finlay, The Pilgrim Art, 162. See especially China in Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace, Consuming Subjects. Women, Shopping, and Business in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 5269. An earlier version of this work was published as Women, China, and Consumer Culture in EighteenthCentury England, Eighteenth-Century Studies 29.2 (1996): 15367. Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace, Tea, Gender, and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century England, in Carla H. Hay and Syndy M. Conger, eds., Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 23 (East Lansing MI: Colleagues Press, 1994): 13145. Kowaleski-Wallace, Consuming Subjects, 60. Kowaleski-Wallaces work is influenced by scholarship on gendered consumption. For a statistical analysis of what women owned gleaned from household inventories, see Lorna Weatherill, A Possession of Ones Own: Women and Consumer Behavior in England, 16001740, The Journal of British Studies 25.2 (April 1986): 13156, as well as her book, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 16001760 (London and New York: Routledge, 1988). For a specific example of a noblewomans patterns of spending and consuming, see Chapter One, Purchasing and Consuming: Elizabeth Harley and Others in Marcia Pointon, Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession, and Representation in English Visual Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). See also Andrea Henderson, Burneys The Wanderer and Early-Nineteenth-Century Commodity Fetishism, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 57.1 (June 2002): 130. From the vast literature on this topic, see especially Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey, eds., Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations (Hanover NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994); Nicholas Mirzoeff, An Introduction to Visual Culture (London: Routledge, 1999); Richard Howells, Visual Culture: An Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003); and Margaret Dikovitskaya, Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2006). There is considerable variation among these sources regarding the exact definition of visual culture and its overlap with art history, although all define visual culture as broadening the traditional scope of art historical inquiry. A point that echoes the insistence on material meanings within larger patterns of social organization theorized by Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Appadurai, The Social Life of Things; Steven Lubar and W. David Kingery, eds., History from Things: Essays on Material Culture (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993); and again Daston, ed., Things that Talk. These observations appear in Armstrongs response to the multi-authored Visual Culture Questionnaire published in October 77 (Summer 1996): 2728. Ibid, 28. Prominent recent theorizations of material culture, mostly anthropological in perspective, include Victor Buchli, Introduction. In The Material Culture Reader, ed Victor Buchli (Oxford: Berg, 2002): 122; Daniel Miller, Material Culture and Mass Consumption (Oxford, 1987); Ian Hodder, ed., The Meanings of Things: Material Culture and Symbolic Expression (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989); Christopher Tilley, Material Culture and Text: The Art of Ambiguity (London: Routledge, 1991); Miller, Daniel, ed., Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter (Chicago IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Henry Glassie, Material Culture (Bloomington IN and London: Indiana University Press, 1999); and Tilley, Metaphor and Material Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999).


20. 21.

22. 23.


25. 26.



29. 30. 31.

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Studies that apply material culture specifically to eighteenth-century American art include Robert Blair St George, Material Life in America, 16001860 (Boston MA: Northeastern University Press, 1988); Cary Carson, Ronald Hoffmann, and Peter J. Albert, eds., Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994); and Margaretta Lovell, Art in a Season of Revolution: Painters, Artisans, and Patrons in Early America (Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005). The classic essay in this realm is Jules David Prown, Mind in Matter: A Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method, Winterthur Portfolio 17. 1 (Spring 1982): 119. Buchli, Introduction, 13. Exceptions to this tendency include the recent scholarship of Katie Scott. See her The Rococo Interior: Decoration and Social Spaces in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris (New Haven CT and London: Yale University Press, 1995), and Playing Games with Otherness: Watteaus Chinese Cabinet at the Chteau de la Muette, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 64 (2003): 189247. For a complementary historical perspective on these issues, see Carolyn Sargentson, Merchants and Luxury Markets: The Marchands Merciers of Eighteenth-Century Paris (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, and Malibu CA: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996). See also Mary D. Sheriff, Decorating Knowledge: The Ornamental Book, the Philosophic Image, and the Naked Truth, in Katie Scott and Deborah Cherry, eds., Between Luxury and the Everyday: The Decorative Arts in EighteenthCentury France (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 15173. See Mimi Hellman, Object Lessons: French Decorative Art as a Model for Interdisciplinarity, in Julia V. Douthwaite and Mary Vidal, eds., The Interdisciplinary: Tensions and Convergences in Eighteenth-Century Art, History, and Literature. Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 2005.04 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2005), 6076. Hellman, Object Lessons, 6061.

33. 34.