Masculine chinoiserie

Silver monteith at Erddig, Wrexham, maker's mark TA or IA in monogram, London, 1689. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I have just been having an interesting conversation with Courtney Barnes over at Style Court about issues of femininity and masculinity in design and decoration. Courtney made the perceptive comment that, at least in recent times, chinoiserie or Chinese-style decoration has been seen as ‘feminine’, whereas japonisme or the taste for Japanese design is considered more something ‘for the guys’.

Detail of a chinoiserie motif on the Erddig monteith. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I am fascinated by how the meaning of certain motifs and styles changes over time, and indeed how feminine and masculine identity is expressed in different periods.

Detail of a chinoiserie motif on the Erddig monteith. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

Shown here is an example of ‘masculine’ chinoiserie, a silver monteith at Erddig, Wrexham, with chased decoration in the pseudo-Chinese style popular in Britain in the 1680s. Monteiths were used as punchbowls or to cool glasses and as such were an accoutrement of male conviviality. In Restoration-period Britain chinoiserie seems to have been ‘for the guys’ as well as for the ladies.

13 Responses to “Masculine chinoiserie”

  1. style court Says:

    Brilliant!

    I’m taken both by the form of the piece and the decoration; the last figure in particular seems to be striking a more stereotypically ‘manly’ pose — at least in terms of Western perceptions.

    Thanks for this, Emile.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    The indentations in the rim are supposedly so one can lay glasses in the cold water in the bowl, but with the stems sticking out, ready for picking up. Apparently William Graham, Earl of Monteith (c. 1634-1694) sported a cloak with a similarly scalloped rim, hence the name. Some of the figures and poses (which as you say are rather swaggering) come from the (Europeanised, baroquesized) illustrations in Johan Nieuhof’s 1665 book about China, which was speedily translated into English. But of course even today your average drunken lad will still adopt such poses during nights out in Britain’s high streets…

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  3. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    Dahhling what a great point you make of the subtle but very significant differences between japonisme & chinoiserie…
    Great post. Enjoyed the silver piece (first image)..gorgeous!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    HRH, thanks but the honour should go entirely to Courtney for making that interesting comment :)

    And yes imagine that monteith on a sumptuous tablecloth with various pieces of blue and white around it, and some silver candlesticks with flickering candles…

  5. papersandpaints Says:

    A very interesting piece, especially as I have just examined the wonderful Chinese Closet at Honington Hall.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    The one with those leather panels painted to look like (Coromandel?) lacquer? Did you draw any conclusions from your examination? I have only seen an image of it in Cornforth’s book Early Georgian Interiors.

  7. deana Says:

    I am reeling from viewing this Monteith bowl… what a remarkable specimen… thanks for sharing it… Erddig has a few such remarkable pieces, don’t they?

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Patrick, thanks very much. It would be interesting to know if that closet was originally intended for the master or for the lady of the house.

    Deana, thank you. This monteith was lent to the exhibition ‘Chinese Whispers: Chinoiserie in Britain 1650-1930′ at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 2008 (no. A11 in the catalogue). It seems to have come to Erddig at some point in the eighteenth century, so some time after it was made. But the house does indeed have a fantastic collection, including some remarkable chinoiserie (you can see more through the link to other ‘Erddig’ posts on the right of the main page of tis blog).

  9. Alison Says:

    Hi Emile, is it possible to link from your blog to the object(s) on the NT Collections Website? This would be brilliant if people want to find out more about something?

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes indeed, thanks for reminding me: I have just added a link to it, on the right of the main page, under ‘Links’. You can also click on the link in the text of the post.

  11. Mary Evelyn McKee Says:

    Ikebana is one of my passions right now and I have discovered that the sons of Japanese samurai would receive instruction in Ikebana at an early age…even today the leading flower arrangers in Japan are men .Ikebana was considered an appropriate pastime for the toughest of warlords.

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes and the Japanese tea ceremony was ‘invented’ by austere monks and later developed by various – perhaps slightly less austere but certainly rather masculine – warlords. And as in the case of the ikebana infrastructure, the hereditary masters of the cha no yu (tea ceremony) schools and their chief disciples tend to be male. On the other hand, most of the Japanese practicioners of cha no yu are female. But there is certainly plenty of interplay between ‘male’ and ‘female’ elements in the traditional Japanese arts (think of No drama where the highest achievement is for a male actor to convey the quintessence of femininity).

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