Giuseppe Castiglione was a Jesuit missionary and prominent and influential court painter in the court of Qing Dynasty China. Melding European painting techniques & media with those of traditional Chinese painting, he produced stunningly innovative works which thoroughly impressed the Qianlong Emperor; however, while his works are quite highly praised today by art historians, he did not have a particularly strong immediate or lasting effect upon the development of Chinese art, which stuck quite conservatively to traditional modes, rejecting for the most part innovations introduced by Castiglione, such as linear perspective.
Castiglione was born in Milan in 1688 and joined the Society of Jesus in 1707. He is known to have painted a number of impressive religious works, including altar pieces for both Genoa and Portugal, before leaving for the Far East in 1714. He made his way to Beijing via Goa and Macao, and is recorded as having been presented before the Kangxi Emperor in late 1715.
Within a few short years, he had mastered a new form or style of painting he developed himself, melding Western and Chinese techniques. One of his most famous works, depicting a flower arrangement in a celadon vase, and titled "Auspicious Object," was completed in 1723, only eight years after he arrived in China.
Castiglione is also known for his contributions to the cartography of the empire, and his composition of a textual description of the Qing conquest of East Turkestan and parts of the southwest, along with illustrations; he managed to have the printing plates for the reproduction of this volume cast in Paris. He is perhaps best known, however, for a series of portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, produced over the course of many years, depicting the emperor in a variety of situations, clothing, and ages.
In 1737, the Qianlong Emperor, the first to appreciate his aesthetic, and to take to a fascination with Western culture, ordered Castiglione to design a number of Western-style pavilions for the Imperial gardens. Castiglione also designed and engineered a number of other European-style buildings, including the Yuan-ming-yuan with help from his fellow Jesuits, and saw it built from 1747-1759. (It was later destroyed in 1860, however, by British and French forces during the Second Opium War.)
- Lee, Sherman. "Varieties of Portraiture in Chinese and Japanese Art." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 64:4 (1977). pp118-136.
- Crossley, Pamela Kyle. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology. University of California Press, 1999, 271-272.