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Chen, Chih-En (2022) The Origin, Development and Classification of Trompe l’oeil Porcelain in High Qing China. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 5 April 2025.


This thesis aims to present an alternate conception of Qing trompe l’oeil porcelain, which fools the eye, appearing real while being materially different from its referent model. Typically it is so skilful that it can be visually mistaken for the original by an uninformed viewer. The thesis questions and challenges the widely accepted identity and origin of the Qing trompe l’oeil porcelain, against the conventional wisdom that it was an imperial genre appraised and collected by the Manchu rulers, notably the Qianlong emperor, and that its production and design was substantially associated with the aesthetic from the West. It is argued in this thesis that there was a hierarchical status within the Qing trompe l’oeil artefacts, and trompe l’oeil porcelain was a genre distinct from the rest of the Qing works of art. The thesis also addresses that the production of Qing trompe l’oeil porcelain began earlier than the Qianlong reign period, and the motivation to present trompe l’oeil surfacescapes on porcelain, which was not necessary imitation based on an authentic counterpart in the real world, varied under different reigns in the High Qing era. Also, the success of this genre should be attributed to many of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns superintendents, instead of giving Tang Ying full credit. Moreover, this research introduces the “spatial turn” into the discourse of the historiography of the Qing trompe l’oeil porcelain and reconsiders the connoisseurship, patronage, and function of this genre. Overall, the thesis paints a holistic picture of Qing trompe l’oeil porcelain – production, reception, purpose, nomenclature and conceptualization, aesthetic, and its connection to physical and symbolic spaces; and through this to demonstrate that the Qing trompe l’oeil porcelains, a marginal genre in the present scholarship, was in actuality a vehicle representing High Qing intermediality and transculturalism and have always been understood as playthings in gendered terms.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Stacey Pierson
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 05 Apr 2022 16:16

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