History of Chinoiseries

Origin of Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie is the result of the fantasies dreamed of by European people for the Orient.

It dates back to Marco Polo in the 13th century and the stories of splendor heard about the Orient which made Europeans imagine how beautiful and peaceful that part of the world was. Jesuit missionaries went abroad and brought back beautiful treasures from China and Japan.

A new chapter in the history of this “imaginary” continent was written in 1498 with the voyage of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama who reached Calicut by an ocean route and re-established a line of direct communication between Europe and the far East.

European people were fascinated by Oriental paintings, porcelain, furniture, silk and other items brought to Europe, in the wake of the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th century. 

First, the Portuguese and then Spaniards overseas expansion. Then the Dutch East India Company and later the English East India Company took an active role to trade spices, teas, silk, porcelain, lacquer furniture and more during the 16th and 17th century.

Because of the According to the expansion of the import trade, the culture of enjoying tea flourished in England.  Spread of Chinoiserie to Europe was inextricably linked to the development of tea and also due to the large quantities of porcelain imports. The Europeans were impressed by the whiteness, / and the exotic patterns of porcelain.

Oriental silk fabrics became increasingly popular in the 17th century, and their patterns were imitated in France and England.

Then, Chinoiserie merged with the decorative culture of Rococo and became a major fad that spread to all of Europe. 

The nobles competitively decorated their rooms with Chinoiserie style, collecting porcelain from China and lacquerware from Japan to create collection rooms. 

For example, fascinated by the Orient, Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, built a palace in the village of Tréanon, near the Palace of Versailles, using blue and white porcelain roof tiles that resembled the pagoda of Nanjing.

Late in the 18th century, European craftsmen and painters created their works that combined elements from Chinese, Japanese and other Asian styles and freed them from each country's traditional conventions. They produced many objects to meet the demand with their fantasy interpretations.

With these historical connections between the West and the East as a background, "Chinoiserie" as it is called today, is not actually just Chinese style, but rather a style that developed to reflect a uniquely European taste, incorporating a wide range of oriental aesthetics.

Relationship with Japan

Japan actively exported lacquerware such as dishes, boxes and cabinets, from the Momoyama era (1573-1602) until Japan invoked national isolationism. It's the same time Europe underwent the age of discovery. These items were regarded as high quality and exceptionally beautiful and became very popular among nobles in Europe. To meet the demand, Japanese craftsmen began to make lacquerware for export. Then European craftsmen also started to make imitation versions, and they were named as Japanner.

As a symbol of wealth and authority, the nobles decorated their rooms with exotic lacquer panels with Japanese patterns such as flowers and birds, and glossy finishes of gold on black were in vogue.

Because China banned foreign trade from the 14th to late 17th century, Europeans imported a lot from Japan. Japanese ceramics like Kakiemon and Arita and lacquer cabinets were exported as well as Japanese paintings and wallpapers made in Japan at the request of Europeans.

It is very interesting to know that Europeans became fascinated with Japanese and Chinese patterns (they could not recognize which was which) and these patterns were changed to suit the European market. At present in Japan, French chinoiseries have become very popular and are in demand rather than the Japanese patterns.

Recreating Chinoiserie as Japanese

At Ocashi, we want to create our new offerings with a Japanese aesthetic, expanded from "Chinoiserie" commonly lumped together, to something uniquely fresh but with a reverence for the artistry of the past.  We are fascinated by this challenge and excited to see how talented interior designers around the world will include them in their interior environments.