Histories of Global Netherlandish Art, 1550-1750

Barbarians and Philosophers

In 2017 the Chinese Impact team organized an exhibition in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem: Barbarians & Philosophers: The Image of China in the Dutch Golden Age (25 March – 20 August 2017). It was reviewed by most Dutch national newspapers.

Barbarians & Philosophers sheds light on the way China and the Netherlands formed images of one another in the seventeenth century. The Dutch were fascinated by the culture of the ‘Celestial Empire’; the Chinese were astonished by the Dutch ‘redheaded barbarians’. A selection of paintings, drawings, porcelain and models charts the cultural exchange.

Nowadays many Europeans regard China with admiration and sometimes with surprise at the economic boom the country is undergoing. Products ‘Made in China’ are inescapable parts of our daily lives, but the image of the country is less clear. The Chinese language and traditions, and the age of Chinese civilization, are not always easy to fit into the Western world view. This situation is not unlike the seventeenth century, when Chinese products became an everyday part of Dutch households and lavishly illustrated books about China proved extraordinarily popular. Some of the stereotypes about China formed during this period remain relevant to the present day. In China itself a similar dynamic can be observed , rooted in the first meetings with Dutchmen, who were reviled and admired as ‘redhaired barbarians’. The exhibition and the accompanying book provide an explanation of this multifaceted cultural exchange.
Artists Evelyn Taocheng Wang and Hans van Bentem provide a modern accent in the exhibition.