Discover” Perfumes of China” in Cernuschi Museum

Discover” Perfumes of China” in Cernuschi Museum.


What’s that one thing that comes to your mind as soon as you think about perfume? “China” may not be that one but actually the history of Chinese perfume is quite long.

The exhibition “Perfume of China” invites visitors to explore the Chinese art of perfume from Zhou period (1046BC) to Qing dynasty (20th century).

Cernuschi Museum cooperate with Shanghai Museum for proposing the cultural of incense journey through art pieces and archaeology objects in Paris.


The word “Perfume” comes from Latin means “through smoke”. It is almost the same concept in Chinese culture. People use aromatic products, incense to communicate with gods. They play a role as intercessors between humans and the gods who were invited down to the Earth by scented smoke.


In imperial China, as is still the case today, perfumes were usually designated by the character xiang (香), signifying both an aroma and the substance that was its source. Of either vegetal or animal origin, scents tool the form of lotions, ointments, toilet water and sachets worn with clothing; they were even taken orally, to perfume the body from within. However, they were mainly burned as a means of providing fragrant fumes, and the culture of incense– a term used here for all aromatics burned in this way– played a vital part in the history of perfumes in China. Therefore, various containers in terms of materials and shapes have been produced.

The classical incense burners whose shapes had been handed down from the Song dynasty (960-1279), cylindrical models together with incense plates and holders were now in general use.


Incense burner in form of duck, Bronze, Western Han dynasty (206 BC – AD9) Musée Cernuschi


Through the journey, we not only know the history but the literati culture and the art of living of perfume. Incense and its various attributes were already natural to Ming domestic life. It was thought to have physiological effects in medicine and was used in moxibustion. Fumigating and purification rites employed toxic incense substances for reasons of hygiene.


A Lady perfuming her Sleeves, Chen Hongshu (1598-1652), Ming dynasty, Shanghai Museum


The most interesting part is the exhibition is supported by Parfums Chrisitan Dior. Frederic Obringer, a sinologist specializing in Chinese medicine and particularly perfumes, was asked to select and translate ancient incense formulas. The nose, Francois Demachy, was invited to reproduce perfumes from the ancient Chinese formulas. For the one which cannot find the original raw material he adapted the recipe by himself. Explanations regarding the composition of the fragrances are provided to the public through computers.

By touching the screen, visitors can smell the hair-perfuming powder recreated by Francois Demachy based on the Qing’s formula.



Curious about what Chinese perfume is it?

Go to visit the exhibition to have an impressive olfactory experience.

The exhibition will last until the 26th of August.




By Pin-Chiao CHEN


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