CfP | The fantastic bestiary of Oriental art in Europe (18th-20th c.) | Paris | 10 juin 2019

Peacocks, dragons and winged lions: 
The fantastic bestiary of Oriental art, its circulations & reinventions in Europe (18th-20th c.)

27-28 MARS 2020

Organising committee:
Vanessa Alayrac-Fielding (université de Lille) 
Laurence Chamlou (université de Reims) 
Isabelle Gadoin (CNRS, « Thalim » / université de Poitiers) 

Invited speaker:
Stacey Pierson (London, SOAS) 

Scientific committee:
Karen Brown (University of St Andrews, Scotland) 
Sarga Moussa (Thalim – université Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Nabila Oulebsir (université de Poitiers) 
Mildred Galland-Szymkowiak (CNRS, équipe Thalim, UMR 7172) 
Evanghelia Stead (université Versailles-St Quentin) 
Yusuke Suzumura (Hosei university, Japon)
Alexis Tadié (université Paris Sorbonne) 
Makiko Yamanashi (university of Trier, Germany) 


With the golden age of Orientalism in the 18th and 19th centuries, many decorative motifs of the Orient started infiltrating European art and culture. The pattern books and dictionaries of ornaments published in the wake of Owen Jones’s pioneering Grammar of Ornament (1856) mostly favoured abstract motifs, like the purely geometrical or highly stylised motifs of Islamic art; however, figurative motifs, and particularly those featuring animals (as also happens in Islamic art) also fired collective imagination and were subjected to numerous appropriations, reinterpretations or variations—sometimes entirely divorced from their true origins. Thus, in the 19th century, fin-de-siècle Symbolists and Aesthetes turned the figure of the peacock into the symbol of Japonism par excellence, largely disregarding its almost timeless presence in the cultures of China, India, Persia; Art Nouveau stylistics delighted in the curves and counter-curves of the dragon, without always considering its Chinese origins; designers and architects entertained the popular public by decorating exhibition pavilions with the winged lions and creatures of the Middle-Eastern pre-Islamic past, rediscovered in the narratives of excavations in Mesopotamia… and many other examples of European appropriations of the Oriental bestiary could similarly be mentioned, such as inventive accommodations of the figures of the phoenix, the simurgh, griffins, lamassus and other fantastic creatures.

This conference will not aim to recall/rewrite the historical development of these motifs or follow their complex peregrinations throughout the Oriental world, but will rather investigate the logics of their reception in 18th and 19th century Europe, looking into the ways in which Oriental figurative motifs became both loci and agents of transcultural and aesthetic transfers, and studying the types of critical discourse held on them. 

We shall seek to understand the modalities of their appropriation by European culture, the mechanisms of their redefinition or reinterpretation, the various stages of their progressive copy, stylization, accommodation or distortion in Western art, and the multiple variations on a theme. The possible fertility of some misinterpretations of Eastern motifs will of course be a moot point.

Of particular interest is the formal and cultural plasticity of such motifs—deriving, perhaps, from the fundamental hybridity of some of them, like the winged lion, half-feline and half-bird, or the dragon, half-reptile and half-bird of prey. Such hybridity allowed them to be invested with ever-changing meanings, but also to be subjected to endless intermedial transfers, from the arts of the book to ceramic or textile art, architectural decor, etc., and also from the decorative arts to the fine arts.
The cultural tensions at work in such artistic borrowings – or pillaging – matter equally, particularly when a symbol fraught with religious, spiritual, communal, or political meaning is redefined as a purely decorative element. Does this transformation of symbols into ornaments imply a mere loss of sense, or does it lead on the contrary to the creation of fresh significance and value? And is it the inescapable fate of decorative motifs to be constantly redefined and revalued through cross-cultural exchanges? 

Suggested questions:
•        Oriental figurative motifs and their reinvention in Western art and ornament: appropriations, transformations, distortions, and re-semantisation. 
•        The actors of these appropriations/transformations: artists, workshops, manufactures… 
•        Definition of the very notion of motif. Dialogues and tensions between figurative and abstract motifs in ornament. 
•        Choice and interpretation of figurative motifs in pattern books and dictionaries of ornament. 
•        « Applied » examples of trans-cultural importations—e.g. William de Morgan’s ceramics, Whistler’s paintings, or the British Aesthetes and the invention of the Japonising motif of the peacock
•        Ornament as a possible “contact zone” between Eastern and Western cultures. Can decorative motifs be “translated” or transposed? Or conversely, can cultures be translated through their ornamental motifs? 
•        Islamic/Indian/Chinese/Japanese… motifs in Europe: fascination, rejection, denial, re-creation
•        The difference between inspiration, copy and plagiarism: the mechanisms of the aesthetic plunder of the Orient by the West 
•        Cultural transfers and misinterpretations in the « philosophy » of Ornament in Europe. 

Possible fields of investigation:
The conference aims to create a dialogue between specialists of different academic disciplines: material culture, iconography, global design history, history of aesthetics, post-colonial criticism, intermedial studies, history of art, epistemology, museology, history of collections, ethnology and anthropology

Selected references:
Adamson, Glenn, Giorgio Riello & Sarah Teasley (eds.). Global Design History. London: Routledge, 2011. 
Buci-Glucksman, Christine. Philosophie de l’ornement: d’Orient en Occident. Paris, Galilée, 2008. 
Delacampagne, Ariane et Christian. Animaux fabuleux. Un bestiaire fantastique dans l’art. Citadelles-Mazenot, 2003. English Translation: Here be Dragons. A Fantastic Bestiary, Princeton UP, 2003.
Espagne, Michel. « La notion de transfert culturel », Revue Sciences/Lettres 2013 :1,
Anne Gerritsen & Giorgio Riello. Writing Material Culture History. London: Bloosmbury, 2015. 
Grabar, Oleg. The Mediation of Ornement. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1992. Trad. L’ornement, formes et fonctions dans l’art islamique, Paris : Flammarion, 1996. 
Grabar, Oleg. Penser l’art islamique : une esthétique de l’ornement. Paris : Albin Michel, 1996.
Labrusse, Rémi, Evelyne Possémé et Sophie Makariou. Purs décors, arts de l’islam, regards du XIXème siècle. Paris : Musée des arts décoratifs et musée du Louvre, 2007. 
Labrusse, Rémi & Salima Hellal. Islamophilies. L’Europe moderne et les arts de l’Islam – Le génie de l’Orient. Somogy / Musée des beaux Arts de Lyon, Paris : 2011.
Merrill, Linda. The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography. Yale UP, 1998.
Necipoğlu, Gülru & Alina Payne. Histories of Ornament. From Global to Local. Princeton UP, 2016. 
Rawson, Jessica. Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1984.
Sloboda, Stacey. Chinoiserie: Commerce and Critical Ornament in eighteenth-century Britain. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 2014.
Wittkower, Rudolf. The Impact of Non-European Civilization on the Art of the West. Cambridge UP, 1989. 

Proposals (300 to 500 words + short biographical presentation – in English or French) are to be sent by June 10, 2019 to: 
Vanessa Alayrac-Fielding, <>
Laurence Chamlou, <>
Isabelle Gadoin, <>
Acceptance will be notified by July 10, 2019.

Citer ce billet
Honorine Tellier (2019, 13 mars). CfP | The fantastic bestiary of Oriental art in Europe (18th-20th c.) | Paris | 10 juin 2019. Animots. Consulté le 21 juin 2024, à l’adresse

Honorine Tellier

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