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Crossing Cultures

Giuseppe Castiglione:

The Foreign Master of Chinese Courtly Art

How was a pupil of European Renaissance art appointed to be a principal court painter in China? How did a Christian missionary influence Chinese art for centuries? 

To find the answer, we need to follow the footprints of Lang Shining - undoubtedly the most influential foreign artist in Chinese history - and trace his career in China. Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione, 1688-1766) is the true master of Chinese courtly arts, whose works are admired by the Qing emperors and later artists for centuries. 

Upon arriving in Beijing in 1715 as a young missionary from Italy, Giuseppe Castiglione was recruited by the imperial court of Qing Dynasty to work as an artist and court painter. For more than 50 years, he’s stayed, merging his western style with Chinese traditional artist techniques. 

His talent and mature skill in art immediately caught emperors’ eyes. By translating European painting skills to the Chinese scroll format, Lang Shining also absorbed the essence of Chinese painting, replacing oil paintings with Chinese paper and silk, and flowing brushes to developing the style of Chinese painting.

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Lily and Winding Peony

National Palace Museum

001222-00011

Lang Shining is regarded as foreign genius.  As an expert in astronomy, architecture and physics, Lang Shining, along with his Chinese followers, was assigned to work on a series of scientific research and portray the imperial life with various themes. He was also commissioned to do architectural designs and painted for the murals in the Forbidden City. Despite his fame in the imperial court; due to a lack of documentary evidence of his life, Lang Shining’s achievements are rather mysterious and little-known now - even his glamorous design for the European-style mansions at the Old Summer Palace was burnt down by Western invaders, leaving merely debris. 

We can only learn about his life from the paintings that survive with his signature and seal, many of which are well preserved in the National Palace Museum. Among them, the most precious work of art is 'One Hundred Horses', the crown jewel of the Chinese art collection since its creation around 300 years ago. In 1724, Lang Shining was commissioned by Yongzheng Emperor to paint 'One Hundred Horses'. A few years later, when the final handscroll (nearly 8 metres long) was presented to the newly enthroned Qianlong Emperor, he declared it a masterpiece. Now, even the preparing sketch of One Hundred Horses is highly praised by artists and scholars of all generations. 

Bringing into China the Western perspective, Lang Shining revolutionized the traditional view of landscape. All in distinctive poses, the one hundred steeds in this painting have shown Lang Shining’s expertise in utilizing dark and bright ink brushes to vividly suggest the light and shadow. His profound researches and exquisite painting techniques are carefully woven into this handscroll with a rather conventional Chinese appearance, thus, presenting a harmonious mergence of Western and Chinese art. Lang Shining left hundreds of remarkable works behind, demonstrating his brilliant efforts as a true practitioner of cultural exchanges between the East and the West: an artist, which became much more influential than the Christian missionary he was determined to be.

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Eight Horses

National Palace Museum

000796-00000


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Peacock

National Palace Museum

003702-00000

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Tree Peonies

National Palace Museum

003702-00000

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One Hundred Horses

National Palace Museum

000916-00000

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Keywords
Crossing Cultures, Lang Shining, Giuseppe Castiglione, Chinese art, ARTiSTORY
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