Congratulations to graduate student Ashley Bruckbauer on her article that was recently published in the Journal of the Western Society for French History. Abstract and link below:
“Ambassadors and Missionaries, Converts and Infidels: Visualizing the 1686 Siamese Embassy to Versailles.” It was published this summer in volume 43 of the Journal of the Western Society for French History.
Between 1680 and 1688, six embassies were dispatched between King Narai (1633-1688) of Siam and King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France. These extraordinary diplomatic events, which were the first official exchanges between the two kingdoms, captured the imagination of the French populace and generated a significant body of visual and material culture. This essay analyzes the diverse prints, paintings, and small-scale luxury objects that depicted the 1686 Siamese embassy to France, the most celebrated and well documented of the delegations. I aim to underline the formal and contextual heterogeneity, as well as the interpretive instability, of these representations. To this end, I examine works of art with varied media, makers, patrons, audiences, and dates, including previously unstudied objects with uncertain attributions and provenances. I argue that these objects depict the 1686 Siamese embassy as not only a diplomatic but also a religious and military triumph. They portray their primary subjects in heterogeneous and ambivalent manners, casting Louis XIV as a leader dedicated to both war and peace, French missionaries as envoys for both Louis and Narai, and the Siamese ambassadors as both willing converts and defeated infidels. While the construction of such divergent narratives suggests the political power of France’s absolutist monarchy, I argue that it also reveals French anxieties about and ambivalence toward the 1686 Siamese embassy, both at the time of and decades after its occurrence.