Giuseppe Castiglione (郎世宁; Lángshìníng) (19 July 1688 – 17 July 1766), was an Italian Jesuit missionary and an artist at the imperial court of three emperors – the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors.
He painted in a style that is a fusion of European and Chinese traditions.
Giuseppe Castiglione was born in the parish of San Marcellino in Milan; his baptismal certificate is kept in the diocesan historical archive. On Jan. 16, 1707 he became a Jesuit, entering the novitiate of Genoa.
The Emperor Kangxi requested a talented Italian painter for the imperial court. Castiglione moved to Portugal in 1710, in Coimbra, awaiting embarkation for Asia.
Castiglione here painted the chapel of the novitiate and made two portraits for the children of the queen of Portugal, now lost.
From Lisbon in 1714, after stopping in Goa, Macau, and Canton, in 1715 Castiglione arrived in China, as a missionary and a painter at the imperial court in Beijing.
At first, under Emperor Kangxi, he worked in collaboration with other artists.
During his stay in China, Castiglione assumed the name of Láng Shíning (郎世寧, Peace of the World).
Kangxi died in 1722 and his successor Yongzheng allowed the Milanese artist to stay at court as a painter.
Although Castaglione was favoured by Yongzheng who commissioned a number of works by him, Yongzheng’s reign was a difficult period for Jesuits as Christianity was suppressed and those missionaries not working for the emperor were expelled.
One Hundred Horses
The third emperor under which Castiglione worked was Qianlong, a man of open views and a great lover of art and culture. Castiglione spent 51 years as a court painter painting various subjects.
Castiglione adapted his Western painting style to Chinese themes and taste. Castiglione’s style was a unique blend of European and Chinese compositional sensibility, technique and themes.
Particularly important are portraits of the Emperor and his concubines, and the imperial horses series.
His fame and greatness as an artist made Qianlong entrust to Castiglione the design and completion of the fountains and decorations of the western-style pavilions inside the gardens of the Old Summer Palace.
For this great building, Castiglione met a team of Western artists, including the French architect Michel Benoist, also a Jesuit, and together with these, he worked for the construction and completion of the pavilions that became a favorite place for afternoons emperor and concubines.
Castiglione is the creation of the twelve bronzes that adorned the Yuanming Yuan zodiacal fountain, designed by Michel Benoist.
Unfortunately, the entire western pavilions of the Old Summer Palace were later destroyed by Anglo-French troops in 1860, so today only ruins can be visited.
Giuseppe Castiglione died in Beijing on July 17, 1766. Emperor Qianlong, his great friend, and admirer ordered an imperial funeral to be celebrated in his honor.