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Landscapes on Paper: Western Accounts of Chinese Gardens from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Century

Bianca Maria Rinaldi, Università degli Studi di Camerino, Fellow 2012–2013, Fall

My research project is an anthology of descriptions of Chinese gardens by Western travelers from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. By analyzing and publishing these texts, my aim is to shed critical light on the reception and interpretation of Chinese gardens by the Western audiences.

During my term of fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, I met most of my objectives. These included finishing the translation from French of Cibot’s Essai sur les Jardins des Plaisance des Chinois (1782) as well as translating a letter (1767) by the French Jesuit Michel Benoist, which offers an account of the imperial park of Yuanming Yuan. I also translated from Italian the descriptions of the imperial park of the Bishu Shanzhuang by the Italian missionary Matteo Ripa. Furthermore, I compared the original French edition (1749) and the English translation (1752) of a latter describing Yuanming Yuan written by the Jesuit Jean-Denis Attiret and worked on annotations to several other texts. Visits to the Rare Book Library proved particularly useful for my research. I discovered there an abridged edition of George Staunton’s account of the Macartney Embassy to the Qianlong Emperor (1797), which I was able to compare with another, better known, version of this important source (An authentic account of an Embassy, 1797). Finally, I had an opportunity to familiarize myself with some of the most recent publications on Chinese gardens and on their Western reception in the eighteenth century.

Interactions with other fellows (Mirka Benes, Christine Ruane, and Maggie Cao) and staff (John Beardsley and Anatole Tchikine) and their critical feedback were crucial to my research. John Beardsley was also instrumental in introducing me to other scholars working on Chinese gardens, providing the basis for fruitful intellectual exchange and collaboration.