Arts and Culture
While modern scholarship on monumentality in European art began at the start of the twentieth century (Riegl 1903), studies of similar concepts in Chinese contexts are commonly thought to have been absent until the end of the century (Wu 1995). However, German scholars wrote about Chinese monuments in a Western context shortly after Alois Riegl’s seminal work, when Ernst Zimmermann, then director of the Saxon Royal Porcelain Collection, claimed a group of Chinese porcelain in Dresden to be “Monumentalvasen,” or monumental vases (Zimmermann 1913).
How did Chinese porcelains become monuments in Saxony? Building upon previous research, this paper first re-examines the diplomatic exchange of Chinese porcelain in Saxon cavalries as German historical memory, which embedded socio-cultural locality to a group of foreign objects. Delving into the designation of 18 “Dragonnervasen” (Dragoon Vases) that entered the Dresden collection in 1717, I trace the initial transfer of these vases from China to Europe before 1717, and explore the locality attributed to them afterwards. The investigation then moves on to consider their global diaspora (1717–1920) and the social lives of selected pieces in collections worldwide, setting the methodological limits of global locality as an analytical term. Using the Dragoon Vases as case studies, I argue that the global locality of Chinese objects resides in transcultural collective memory and historiographic narrative, which forms the key to understanding monumentality in global history and transcultural studies.