Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Crossing Cultural, National, and Racial Boundaries: Portraits of Diplomats and the pre-colonial French-Cochinchinese Exchange, 1787-1863

In this thesis, I examine portraits of diplomatic figures produced between two official embassies from Cochinchina to France in 1787 and 1863 that marked a pre-colonial period of increasing contact and exchange between the two Kingdoms. I demonstrate these portraits' departure from earlier works of diplomatic portraiture and French depictions of foreigners through a close visual analysis of their presentation of the sitters. The images foreground the French and Cochinchinese diplomats crossing cultural boundaries of costume and customs, national boundaries of loyalty, and racial boundaries of blood. By depicting these individuals as mixed or hybrid, I argue that the works both negotiated and complicated eighteenth- and nineteenth-century divides between French and foreign. The portraits' shifting form and function reveal France's vacillating attitudes towards and ambivalent foreign policies regarding pre-colonial Cochinchina, which were based on an evolving French imagining of this little-known Other within the frame of French Empire.