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In the sixteenth century, European powers expanded their global interests at an even greater pace, and increasing contact took place between East and West that resulted from the spread of religion and the commerce that took place. When Jesuit missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church arrived in China, they often brought Western works of art as tools in their missionary work. Although this cultural influx did not yield major changes in the tradition of Chinese painting, it did open up "new visions" of the West. Later, painting of the Ch'ing dynasty court also came under the influence of "Western-style trends" from Europe, which gradually became one of its most noticeable features.

Among the many Western missionary-painters who came to China, perhaps one of the most talented and well known was Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), also known by his Chinese name Lang Shih-ning. Castiglione was born in the city of Milan, Italy. At the age of 19, he entered the Society of Jesus in Genoa as a novitiate, studying oil painting and architecture as well. In 1714, he was sent to China for missionary work and by 1715 had arrived at Peking. He came to the attention of the court for his skill in painting, serving the K'ang-hsi, Yung-cheng, and Ch'ien-lung Emperors as an artist for up to fifty-one years. At the Ch'ing court, Castiglione devoted himself to harmonizing Western painting techniques with Chinese styles, subjects, and materials. In addition to providing instruction in oil painting, he also took part in the architectural design of the European-style buildings at the imperial Yüan-ming Garden. Furthermore, on behalf of the Church, he sought and received protection for missionaries from the Ch'ien-lung Emperor. Some of his earliest paintings done in China, such as "Assembled Auspiciousness" and "A Hundred Steeds," are now in the collection of the National Palace Museum. Castiglione also left behind many portraits of the emperor and took part in cooperative painting projects at court.

Even before Giuseppe Castiglione came to China, Western-style painting could be found at the Ch'ing court. However, after his arrival and through his efforts, the techniques of Western perspective and shading reached a peak of assimilation in certain aspects of Chinese painting, forming a style that seamlessly combined the techniques of Western realism with the aesthetics of Oriental appreciation. During the reign of the Ch'ien-lung Emperor, these ultra-refined and opulently colored works merging Chinese and Western art became some of the most brilliant and fascinating images to symbolize the prosperity and cultural vision of the Ch'ing court.


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