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Illustration of Victory: Archives of the Grand Council
Lang Shih-ning (Giuseppe Castiglione, 1688-1766), et al., Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
Copperplate print, 56 x 89.5 cm

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The Grand Council of State was created from the Military Supply Office, an agency established in the Yung-cheng period (1723-1735) by the Board of Revenue and Population for the mobilization of troops in northwest China. From the Ch'ien-lung period (1736-1795), the powers of the Grand Council steadily expanded. In addition to managing military affairs, it played a leading role in domestic and foreign policy, gradually replacing the Grand Secretariat in these functions. For the sake of easier retrieval, the records of the Grand Council were transcribed and compiled into archives. The main part of the Grand Council archives at the National Palace Museum consists of records and monthly memorial packets. Among the later are a considerable number of invaluable copperplate etchings produced in the Ch'ien-lung period. The art of copperplate etching was first developed in Europe. Etchings of this type are made by coating a smooth copperplate with corrosion-resistant wax, through which the design is drawn with a blade or needle. The plate is then exposed to corrosive acid, which eats away the etched areas of the plate, forming a pattern of recessed lines. These lines are filled with ink, which is transferred to paper with the aid of a press. Admired for their delicate lines and unique style, copperplate prints gained popularity in the Ch'ing court after the appointment of Jesuits to palace positions during the Ch'ien-lung period. At this time, the technique was used to record historical events, including a series of prints depicting military campaigns. One of these is “Illustration of Victory”, which portrays the suppression of the Dzungars and the capture of southern Sinkiang. The 16 prints in this series were based on draft paintings by Lang Shih-ning (Giuseppe Castiglione), Wang Chih-ch'eng (Jean Denis Attiret), Ai Ch'i-meng (Ignatius Sichelbart), and An Te-i. They were reproduced in color on Hsüan paper by Ting Kuan-p'eng and others and then sent by the Grand Council Customs Superintendent in Canton for delivery to Paris, France. There, they were converted into copperplates by the celebrated etcher C. N. Cochin. In 1774, a full ten years after the Palace Workshop first commissioned the project, the printing was finally completed. The print shown here depicts the encampment at Ketengela. Measuring 56 by 89 cm, it was offset from a meticulously engraved copperplate on Western paper and using ink made with a pigment refined from wine. The composition is exceptional for its subtle balance of solid and void, even use of light, and strong sense of object presence. Joining European and Chinese painting styles, it is a commendable product of cultural exchange between the East and West.
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