During the 18th century, Europe saw a radical change in taste in the art of the garden, which led from geometrical formal arrangements to the development of gardens inspired by an artistic naturalness. A contribution to this process came from the Society of Jesus, whose members were the first to live lengthily in China and to visit extensively gardens, conveying to Europe information on the natural forms of the gardens of China. The book presents and discusses the original sources containing the many reports on Chinese plants and gardens compiled by the Jesuits – missionaries in China – in European languages during the 17th and 18th centuries and published in Europe at that time. An investigation of the many descriptions about Chinese gardens Jesuits wrote shows a gradual deepening of the Jesuits’ investigation as well as a change in attitude and sensibility of the missionaries in their approach to the Chinese art of garden. Their general curiosity we can read in the early texts gave way to a clearer understanding and then became true appreciation for the gardens of China. Jesuits attempted to explain the real appearance of Chinese gardens and did not hesitate to suggest that Europeans adopted Chinese gardens as a model. The book highlights the important role of the Jesuits in making Europeans progressively aware of the aspect and the compositional forms of the gardens of China from the early 17th century onward. The book also argues that the descriptions compiled by the Jesuits had a seminal role in engendering that novel type of garden inspired by irregularity and naturalness, which spread over Europe during the 18th century.
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