CEAS & Art History | From France to the Qing Court: Tapestries as Cross-cultural Textiles

Mei Mei Rado

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Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140
@ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

From France to the Qing Court: Tapestries as Cross-cultural Textiles

Mei Mei Rado (Assistant Professor of Textiles, Dress, and Decorative Arts at Bard Graduate Center)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024 | 5:30 to 7:00pm CT
Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

This presentation draws from my forthcoming book The Empire’s New Cloth: Cross-cultural Textiles at the Qing Court (Yale University Press, 2025). Large-scale pictorial tapestries ranked among the most precious art forms in the early modern period. While their circulations and functions among European courts have been well studied, less known are their journeys to China and subsequent roles in stimulating new developments in Qing imperial arts. The first part of this talk uncovers the history of French tapestries that entered the Qing court during the eighteenth century as diplomatic gifts and trade goods, including the first and second Tentures chinoises woven by the Beauvais Manufactory and the Tenture des Indes made by the Gobelins Manufactory. Their trajectories reconstructed from both the French and Qing sides offer a window into the complexity of global networks and contingency of cultural encounters. These tapestries’ themes, marked by idealized exoticism compressing distance and time, functioned as a kind of diplomatic lingua franca adaptable to express divergent cultural and political visions. The second part of this presentation examines how European tapestries gave rise to a new type of textile art form in the Qing imperial workshops and an innovative mode for furnishing the palace interiors. The medium’s architectonic tension and interactive visual potential enabled the Qianlong emperor to envision his own physical presence in relation to the tapestry in space and offered him new ways to reenact narratives charged with imperial significance.

Mei Mei Rado is Assistant Professor of Textiles, Dress, and Decorative Arts at Bard Graduate Center, where she also received her Ph.D in 2018. From 2020 to 2022 she was Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and previously held various curatorial and research positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Palace Museum (Beijing), and Institut national d’histoire de l’art (Paris). Her research focuses on Chinese and French textiles and dress from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, with a special focus on cross-cultural exchanges. Her most recent articles include “The Court” in the exhibition catalogue China’s Hidden Century, 1796-1912 (British Museum, 2023), “Botanical Fantasy in Silk: Transformations of A Rococo Floral Design from England to China,” in the edited volume Material Cultures of the Global Eighteenth Century: Art, Mobility and Change (Bloomsbury, 2023), and  “Le rideau tiré : Interior Drapery, Architectural Space, and Desire in Eighteenth-Century France,” in the edited volume Textile in Architecture: From the Middle Ages to Modernism (Routledge, 2023). Her forthcoming book The Empire’s New Cloth: Cross-cultural Textiles at the Qing Court will be published by Yale University Press in early 2025.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Department of Art History.