Title: Archery Contest at the Court of Emperor Qianlong (reign 1736-1796)
Handscroll: ink and colors on silk
Dimensions: Image: 20 3/4 x 104 in. (52.7 x 264.2 cm)
Gift of Mr. Albert Fried
Giuseppe Castiglione was born in Milan, and completed his novitiate at a Jesuit monastery in Portugal. Soon after arriving in China in 1715, Castiglione was presented to the emperor Kangxi and spent the remaining years of his life in China. He died in Beijing after working for nearly sixty years as an artist in the imperial atelier. To satisfy the demands of the three emperors who employed him, he and other Jesuit painters developed a distinctive style of painting that blended Western watercolor techniques and approaches with Chinese subject matter, formats and aesthetics.
The Jesuits presented themselves in China as ambassadors of Western science, wore Chinese dress, and took Chinese names; Castiglione became known as Lang Shining (Lang Calm Life). The Qianlong emperor, himself a painter and art connoisseur, was fascinated by Castiglione’s painting skills, and frequently came to watch him work. This handscroll exemplifies the xiesheng (“painted from life”) recording of specific events in an almost photographic manner. It portrays an archery contest that occurred, according to Qianlong’s poem, around 1750 at the Changchunyuan, Garden of Everlasting Spring, on the imperial grounds of the Summer Palace (located on the outskirts of Beijing). Castiglione was an influential artist at the imperial court who trained Chinese artists in Western watercolor techniques. Court artists often collaborated on their imperial commissions, and several must have assisted with this painting. Each contributed portions according to their individual specialties in landscape, architecture, plants, animals, or figures.
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.