In the name of god, by the means of art: the transformation of the Italian painting to the Qing imperial art as seen through the works of giuseppe castiglione

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Saran Suebsantiwongse


A group of Catholic priests and lay brothers known as the Jesuits arrived in China in the 16th century with the mission to covert the Emperor and the nation. One of their foremost methods to achieve this was by means of art. Amongst the Jesuits in China, Giuseppe Castiglione, an Italian painter/lay brother, was one of the most recognised personalities. He arrived in Beijing in 1715 CE and worked as a court artist for three consecutive Emperors of the Qing dynasty until his death. Castiglione adapted the tradition Chinese style of painting and integrated it with his background in European painting, which resulted in a new idiom of courtly art. This paper outlines Castiglione’s influence and contribution to the imperial Chinese art of the 18th-century through the analysis of styles and techniques in some of his notable works, which are then compared with a number of European and Chinese paintings of different periods and genres. The result demonstrates that the Chinese art during the Qing period acquired a new style through the significant artistic innovation spearheaded by Castiglione and his associates, while still remaining in tune with the Emperors’ taste and formidable courtly traditions. And though the Jesuits captured the Emperors’ attention with their artistic skills, the history has proven that their principle mission at converting the nation had not achieved quite the same result.


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