My book, “Compassion in Common,” pursues the political inflections of the language of compassion that flourished in early modern France in the period after the brutal religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. In the final part of the book, I look at the Chinese porcelain figurines of Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, present in private collections in France. These items were both familiar within the terms of Catholic compassion and yet sufficiently foreign to satisfy new Orientalist crazes. The French Guanyins, I suggest, allow us to trace compassion’s strange but sometimes productive misreadings of other lives.
My research partner will help me trace the circulation of these porcelain figures by combing through catalogs and inventories. The research partner will need a good reading knowledge of French (and preferably some familiarity with 17th-century French), a readiness to follow up inquiries with curators and collectors, and a dogged detective instinct. This would be an ideal project for a student with an interest in early modern France, in Chinese art, and in material culture and commercial exchanges, or more particularly in porcelain; it would be wonderful training for anyone interested in a career in research or museum work.