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The Amazing Art of Giuseppe Castiglione at the Chinese Imperial Court

The life and the works of Giuseppe Castiglione

Giuseppe Castiglione (郎世宁; Lángshìníng) (19 July 1688 – 17 July 1766) was an Italian Jesuit missionary who also served as an artist at the imperial court under three emperors: Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. His work is notable for blending European and Chinese artistic traditions.

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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.

Concubine of the Emperor Qianlong who lived from 1711 - 1799
Empress Xiaoxianchun (28 March 1712 – 8 April 1748) was the first Empress Consort of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty. In 1727, Lady Fuca married Hongli (Prince Bao), the fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, and became his primary consort (嫡妃). She then moved into the Palace of Eternal Spring in the western part of the Forbidden City. In 1735, the Yongzheng Emperor died and was succeeded by Prince Bao, who was enthroned as the Qianlong Emperor. Two years after her husband’s coronation, Lady Fuca, as the emperor’s primary consort, was instated as Empress. She was praised and favoured by the emperor.

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.

Consort Ling of Qianlong
Part of the painting Qianlong Emperor and His Consorts, features the Consort Ling (令妃) of Qianlong Emperor.

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).

Empress of Qianlong
Part of the painting Qianlong Emperor and His Consorts, features the Empress of Qianlong Emperor.

Kangxi died in 1722 and his successor Yongzheng allowed the Milanese artist to stay at court as a painter.

Although Castiglione was favored 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.

Peacock Spreads Its Tail
Peacock Spreading Its Tail Feathers. 畫孔雀開屏 軸. 1758. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk.

Castiglione adapted his Western painting style to Chinese themes and tastes. 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.

Qianlong Emperor
Portrait of Emperor Qianlong. Part of the painting Qianlong Emperor and His Consorts, features the Qianlong Emperor. The Qianlong Emperor (25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799) was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper.

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.

Portrait of the Emperor Troating for Deer - detail
Portrait of the Emperor Troating for Deer – detail. Detail of the two lead riders. 1741. Ink and color on silk mounted on hanging scroll

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.

Eight Horses
Eight Horses, 八骏图. Between circa 1723 and circa 1735. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk
Pines and cranes in spring
Pines and cranes in spring. Second quarter of 18th century. Ink and watercolor on silk
Golden Pheasants in Spring
Golden Pheasants in Spring, 畫錦春圖. 18th century. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk. Detail
Fish and Aquatic Plants
Fish and Aquatic Plants, 画鱼藻. 18th century. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk
Cochin Lemur
Cochin Lemur. 1761. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk
Cranes under Shadow of Flowers
Cranes under Shadow of Flowers, 花阴双鹤图. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk
Dog by bamboo
Dog by bamboo, 竹蔭西猊狗圖, ink and color on silk.
Dog Under Flowers
Long-haired Dog Beneath Blossoms, 繁體. 1727. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk
Deer in an Autumn Forest
Deer in an Autumn Forest, 秋林群鹿图. Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk.
Beauties Collection, by Giuseppe Castiglione. Located in the Shanghai Museum.
Ayusi Assailing The Rebels with a Lance
Ayusi Assailing The Rebels with a Lance. Ayusi ( 阿 玉 锡 a yu xi ), an officer of the Qing Army.
Vase of Flowers
Vase of Flowers, 畫瓶花. Handscroll, ink and colors on silk

Source: Wikipedia , Wiki Commons

Topic: Christian art in China,Catholic art,catholic religious art,religious art in China,painted china,paintings of old China,old China images

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