Argue philosophical, historical and representational issue. (w/c 110)

Argue for and against
the usefulness of the term ‘exoticism’ for understanding the global dimension
of art and visual culture in 1600–1800.

Exoticism is a trend in European art and design. First
stimulated by Eastern trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, interest in
non-western (particularly “Oriental”, i.e. Middle Eastern or Asian)
art by Europeans became more and more popular following European colonialism.
The term ‘exoticism’ is a wide encompassing term, a term constructed by society
used to categorize or describe something about which little is known; and as it
holds many connotations it is necessary to look explicitly at the context in
which the term is being used and expressed by scholars on an individual
basis.  Exoticism as a term and its use
is a complex philosophical, historical and representational issue. (w/c 110)

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Plate 2.15 Jurriaen Van Streeck, Still Life with Moor and Porcelain Vessels, c.1670, oil on canvas,
Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

During the 17th century the Dutch moved their interests away
from colonising and developed much more commercial motives, looking for the
most curious objects and commodities that could be used to ‘sell’ the exotic
world to the rest of Europe. During this period in history termed
‘proto-globalization’ (Hopkins) distinguishing itself on the basis of
expansionism, the method of managing global trade and the level of information
exchange; marked by such trading arrangements as The East India Company, The
Dutch West India Company and The Dutch East India Company, a shift of hegemony
to Western Europe, the rise of larger scale conflicts between powerful nations,
and a rise of new commodities; most particularly the Atlantic slave trade. In
this banquet piece by Streeck we see a dimly lit room with a variety of exotic and
luxurious goods; oysters, fruits, Chinese porcelain and a Persian carpet, the
presence of a black African youth with a serving platter in hand, also
signifying him as a luxurious commodity most probably imported by the Dutch
west Indian Company founded in 1621 with a monopoly of trade in the Atlantic.
Streecks banquet piece typically contains many intriguing and exotic
commodities that would have been imported and exported by Dutch Merchants
across the globe, it was during this golden period Europeans enjoyed an
unprecedented ability to view the world. To see the world in mimetic form—to
view it in the wide range of devices dedicated to the replication of the exotic
world—had become remarkably easy, especially in the widely circulated sources
of Dutch geography. These sources delivered the things of the world, in a
strikingly visual, readily viewable, and pronouncedly pictorial form. Maps,
atlases, and hand-­ coloured topographic views; picture books displaying the
ethnography and history of foreign lands; plentifully illustrated travel
accounts and natural histories; landscape and still-­ life paintings, and
copper engravings of exotic peoples, flora, and fauna; a vast range of material
arts, ornately embellished with exotic motifs: all of these furnished images of
the world, and never had these images been more effortlessly obtainable than in
the decades surrounding 1700. (Schmidt) (w/c 350)

 The rising popularity
in this style of still life painting across Europe
showed a new model of consumption, based on the purchasing power of affluent
citizens, of which growing numbers could now afford luxury goods, known as the
burgher classes.  These representations
of the exotic world grew in popularity assimilating the periods rise in trade
and consumption; often depicting high end commodities and, often categorized as
pronkstilleven meaning sumptuous or
ostentatious also an interpretation of exotic; as in Plate 2.13 Willem Kalf, Still life with Nautilus Cup and Other Objects, 1662, (pp.87)
which show an eclectic mixture of foreign commodities purveying a host of
different cultures. Paintings
executed in the vanitas style were
meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure,
and the certainty of death, in Plate 2.14 Jan van der Heyden, Still Life with Curiosities, 1712,
(pp.89) we see a painting of a cabinet of curiosities which includes a bible,
terrestrial and celestial globes, an atlas and a rolled up map testament to the
geographical knowledge and power of the Dutch; Chinese silk table cloth,
Turkish carpet, Japanese Kakiemon bowl and ornate spear, and a stuffed
armadillo. Which in use of the term exoticism
as referred to by scholar Schmidt; all display traits of the different,
dramatic, unknown, mysterious and foreign items which had become associated
with cross cultural contact with the other, I find the term useful for this
genre of painting during this period. Exoticism is concerned with the
perception and description of difference, or ‘otherness’. French writer Victor
Segalen criticised his contemporaries’ ‘reductive’ understanding of exoticism
through geography (tropicalism) and history/ politics (colonialism), but he
stopped short of offering a conceptual alternative. Edward Said offered a
fuller philosophy of exoticism post; Said argued that a dominant European
political ideology created the notion of the Orient in order to subjugate and
control it. Said explained that the concept of Orientalism embodied
distinctions between “East” (the Orient) and “West”
precisely so the “West” could control and authorize views of the
“East.” For Said, this nexus of power and knowledge enabled the
“West” to generalize and misrepresent North Africa, the Middle East
and Asia and as an extension of Orientalism, Exoticism allows for a wider
reaching area to be encompassed to the same end; In its use Exoticism as a
representation of Exotic places, in short, which have become expressed as
things—consumable things and luxury items—as exotic geography segued into
collecting and the material arts, this use of exoticism to refer to this style
and period is very useful in aiding our understanding in the global dimension
of art and visual culture. (Schmidt). (w/c 442)   
              

Total word
count above here 902

Individually design, art and visual culture depicted in
paintings or materials of this period which are influenced or of the origin of
a foreign land, had terms expressed as ‘indian’ chinoiserie, turquerie and
japanned; exoticism in my opinion is a more collective and general means of
expressing the unknown. Where it is of an established origin the appropriate
alternative term should be used, although the distinction between that which
was made in the country of origin and things created in the style of became
slurred, an example being both blue and white Chinese porcelain and delftware
which was so heavily influenced by the Chinese style; it has also become
synonymous as a Dutch style in its own right; acknowledging in art history how
the discovery of new cultures and the travel of goods during this period is
depicted by nuanced changes in art and visual culture through the global flow
of information and goods that occurred post age of exploration. (w/c 160)

 

 

Plate 3.2 Francois Boucher, La Toilette, 1742, oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

 

 

After the age of exploration as global trading posts and
newly established companies cast wider networks; colonialism gave way to an era
of commerce and commercial opportunity with fierce competition from European
powers to maximise their nation’s share of global trade and boost its fortune
in relation to their rivals (p.7) During this mercantilist period, military
conflict between nation-states was both more frequent and more extensive than
at any other time in history. Shipping was particularly important during the
mercantile period. With the growth of colonies and the shipment of gold from
the New World into Spain and
Portugal,
control of the oceans was considered vital to national power, the mercantile system
served the interests of merchants and producers such as the British East India
Company, whose activities were protected or encouraged by the state. It had
been common in preceding centuries to trade and collect luxury rare items such
as porcelain, silks and spices, and whilst this still took place, during this
period it became more common to trade various commodities such as cotton, sugar
cane, rice and tobacco; enabled by the triangular trade system which also
intensified Europe’s global power and drove the slave trade. (w/c 197)

Whilst there are displays of cross cultural exchange without
hidden political agenda in artworks of banquets or breakfasts;  In some portraiture and landscape scenes of
the period ‘other’ cultures are depicted as subservient here both terms of
exoticism or cross-cultural connections could be useful; indicating political
dominance over a territory and portraying the indigenous as inferior giving
negative images of the ‘other’ this a stark contrast to its use when expressing
exoticism as reference to exotic luxurious commodities shown in still life
paintings; to this end I find exoticism can also be an ambiguous term with
positive and negative connotations. (w/c 100)

 

References –

Barker, E. (2017) Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800,
Manchester, Manchester University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Baker-Bates, P. (2017) ‘From Iberia to the Americas:
Hispanic art of the colonial era’ in Barker, E. (2017) Art, Commerce and
Colonialism 1600-1800, Manchester, Manchester University Press/Milton Keynes,
The Open University, pp.35-74

Barker, E. (2017) ‘The Golden Age revisited: Dutch art in
global perspective’ in Barker, E. (2017) Art, Commerce and Colonialism
1600-1800, Manchester, Manchester University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open
University, pp.75-114

Taylor, C. (2017) ‘Creative interactions: chinoiserie in
eighteenth century Britain’ in Barker, E. (2017) Art, Commerce and Colonialism
1600-1800, Manchester, Manchester University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open
University, pp. 115-152

McKellar, E. (2017) ‘Transatlantic architecture: classicism,
colonialism and race’ in Barker, E. (2017) Art, Commerce and Colonialism
1600-1800, Manchester, Manchester University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open
University, pp.153-184

Newall, D. Barker, E. Carter, W. Christian, K and Dohmen, R.
(eds) (2017) Art and its global histories: a reader, Manchester, Manchester
University Press/ The Open University. 

Dean, C. Leibsohn, D. (2003) Hybridity and its Discontents:
Considering visual culture in Colonial Spanish America*, Colonial Latin America
Review, 12:1, 5-35, DOI: 10.1080/10609160302341

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoticism

Oshinsky, Sara J. “Exoticism in the Decorative Arts.” In
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/exot/hd_exot.htm (October 2004)

Laura LaHaye, “Mercantilism.” The Concise
Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. 10 January
2018. .

 
Plate 2.13 Willem Kalf, Still life
with Nautilus Cup and Other Objects, 1662

 Plate 2.14 Jan van der Heyden, Still Life with Curiosities, 1712