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One of the first photographic albums on China.

[Chinese photographic album]. Album Chinois.
[Shanghai?], ca. 1860. 4to. 41 albumen printed photographs (most measuring 11 x 8 cm). Original publisher's black calico cloth, rebacked with black leather, blind-tooled boards with the title lettered in gold on the front board, gilt edges, yellow endpapers. [42] pp.
€ 35,000
This album is a rare and original edition of one of the first albums on China featuring 43 photographs and images, many of which are original portraits. Few copies of this rare work survive, one being held by the Getty Museum. The album is one of the first on China and is described as "very curious" by Chadenat. Most photographs measure 110 x 80 mm. The text sheet, which is bound in the beginning, explains that the album is intended to showcase the costumes of the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire. "This little album is intended to make known the true costumes of the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire. We have tried to choose a specimen from all classes of the Society, from the Emperor to the simple workers [...] various costumes and portraits found in this album were photographed on former models, or sent lately from China by the Missionaries themselves". The photographs depict individuals from all classes of society, from the Emperor to the simple worker. The album was created as a propaganda work to the glory of the Jesuits, who had returned to China in 1841 after an absence of nearly seventy years. The emphasis of the album is on the protection enjoyed by the order in the seventeenth- and eighteenth centuries, particularly during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, whose portrait begins the album. The photographs showcase the civilizing and cultural actions of the Jesuits, addressing all social strata, from the poorest to Mandarins. The album was created in an extremely troubled period of persecution of Christians and armed rebellion, and in the historical context of the Second Opium War, during which all missions in the region were destroyed, except those in Shanghai.
The album may have been made in 1860, when the Beijing Convention recognized the civil rights of Chinese Christians and strengthened the diplomatic protection of missionaries by France, following the murder of twenty-four missionaries in the area. The death of father Auguste Chapdelaine, which was one of the pretexts for the entry into the war of France and England against the Celestial Empire, is also referenced.
We can date the album to around 1860 and located in Shanghai, specifically at the end of the Zi-ka-wei (Ðì¼Ò»ã), the first Jesuit mission to China in 1841 since they were evicted. Bishop André Borgniet's photograph, who served as the bishop of Shanghai from 2 October 1859 until his death in 1862, leads the Jesuit Fathers in the album, providing a clear indication of the time period. St. Ignatius College for boys, China's first Catholic college, was established in the district in 1847, welcoming the sons of better-educated Chinese families into boarding school. Joseph Ma Xiangbo studied at St. Ignatius College. The album features students from the college, including the "Philosophy Student" and the "Bachelier," as well as "Zi-ka-ve Students" and "Catechumenes." The education provided by the Jesuit congregation resulted in quality diplomas. The album also features portraits of Jesuits such as Mathurin Lemaître, who was born in Le Mans in 1816, ordained in 1839, and joined the Jesuit order in 1841. Lemaître arrived in China in 1846 as the procurator of the mission, responsible for negotiating with the Chinese authorities over the return of Church property that had been seized by the state as a result of the treaties that ended the First Opium War. Other remarkable Jesuits depicted are Louis Hélot (1816-1867), notable for his collection of plants or Francesco Adinolfi (1831-1874), director of St. Ignatius College.
Some of the images were modelled after the etchings of Isidore-Stanislas-Henri Helman ("Amour-Sana" Made King of the Eleuths") and Charles-Nicolas Cochin ("The Battle at Oroi-jalatu") and illustrate the conquests of the Qianlong Emperor. Between 1767 and 1774, the finest printmakers at Louis XV's court etched and engraved prints in France based on reduced-scale copies of paintings by Jesuit artists working in Beijing, under the direction of Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1715-1790). The Chinese merchants of Canton financed the production of two hundred sets of prints and the copper plates, which were then shipped to China. Only a few sets were retained in Paris. These prints demonstrate the combination of Eastern and Western styles that were encouraged in the Qing imperial painting academy. Although the European technique of chiaroscuro, which involves the use of light and shade to create a sense of depth, is apparent, it has been modified to reflect Eastern sensibilities. The scenes are presented from panoramic views and with strongly up-tilted ground planes. At the same time, the prints reflect European preferences for anatomical accuracy, a single light source, and mathematically correct scaling to create a sense of depth.
The present copy includes a photograph of the fathers ("Les peres de la section"), not present in other copies of this work. The portraits of the missionaries of the Society of Jesus, like all the other photographs, are captioned to black ink with handwritten annotations in Latin and Chinese characters. Rebacked, occasional slight foxing and browning. Otherwise in very good condition. Chadenat, Bibliographie de géographie, de voyages, datlas et douvrages sur la marine, Asia, Afrique, Amérique et Océanie, n° 1789.
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Art, architecture & photography  >  Photography
Asia  >  China