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The Far Side: Expatriate Medieval Art and Its Languages in Sino-Mongol China

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Medieval art refers principally to the art of Western Europe. Objects, however, complicate its chronology and geography. To begin to understand the fast, fluid, and far-reaching currents of the human transmission of European medieval art, this essay studies objects made by and/or for expatriate Europeans resident in China under Mongol rule. A unique part of Yuan visual culture, European ways of making and seeing objects existed in Sino-Mongol contexts—namely for court, merchants and the Church—like those of Europe. European ways of making and seeing objects were not wholly discrete from Sino-Mongol ways of making and seeing objects. Rather, by examining the cases of a French goldsmith active at the court of Möngke Khan (ca. 1208-1259), of tombstones made for the children of a Genoese merchant, and of pictures made by and for Franciscan missions, this essay attempts to show, in a limited way, how European objects in Yuan China spoke languages—firstly, of mimetic form; secondly, of iconography, pictorial convention, and text; and, thirdly, of materiality—that made them meaningful to local audiences, delimited spheres of expatriate European medieval visual culture, and participated in a transregional European medieval art.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Art and University College, University of Toronto, 15 King’s College Circle, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3H7

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