Paintings on Silk by Giuseppe Castiglione – A Qing Dynasty Court Painter

Ru Huang Bao, from the Ten Fine Hounds series

Giuseppe Castiglione (Chinese name: 郎世寧; pinyin: Lángshìníng) (1688 – 1766), was an Italian Jesuit missionary in China, where he served as an artist at the imperial court of three Qing dynasty emperors – the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors.

Castiglione painted in a style that is a fusion of European and Chinese traditions. He adjusted the Western style he was trained in to suit Chinese taste; for example, strong shadows used in chiaroscuro techniques were unacceptable in portraiture, therefore when Castiglione painted the Emperor, the intensity of the light was reduced so that there was no shadow on the face, and the features were distinct.

The paintings were done on silk with careful and precise strokes. Unlike Western oil paintings where mistake can be reworked, brushwork on silk is almost impossible to be removed. The paintings needed to be worked out in detail beforehand, which Castiglione did with preparatory drawings on paper before he traced the designs onto silk.