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Exotic Qing court painting: Western brushstrokes depicting Eastern charm

Updated: 2024-01-12 15:27 ( chinadaily.com.cn )
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Within the Qing (1644-1911) imperial court, a unique collection of paintings can be identified, which were created by European missionaries serving at the imperial court.

One outstanding example is Pine, Hawk, and Lingzhi Fungus, completed in 1724 during the Yongzheng reign, and crafted by Italian court painter Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), known by his Chinese name, Lang Shining. This artwork was presented as a birthday gift to Emperor Yongzheng (r. 1723-1735).

The elements depicted in the painting -- pine trees, a white hawk, and lingzhi fungus -- share homophones with its Chinese title, symbolizing longevity in traditional Chinese culture. Lang Shining seamlessly blended Chinese themes of auspicious blessings, through tangible objects with Western painting techniques, such as point perspective. This fusion brought a fresh perspective to traditional Chinese bird-and-flower paintings.

Perspective, the Western painting technique introduced by Lang Shining, also found its influence in Principles of Visual Perspective (Shixue), authored by polymath Nian Xiyao (1671-1738). Having learned from Lang Shining about Western perspectives and drawing techniques, Nian compiled this unprecedented work on descriptive geometry in China.

He also played a significant role in the history of Chinese painting, serving as a pioneer in cultural exchanges between China and the West. By incorporating Western painting skills into traditional Chinese bird-and-flower paintings, he breathed new vitality into the Chinese painting sphere, particularly during the Qing Dynasty.

Watch the video to discover more about the painting Pine, Hawk, and Lingzhi Fungus by Lang Shining.