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Art and its Histories: Scholars in Lecture

Catholic Realism in the Qing Court: Qianlong’s Jesuit Painters

Date: 11 January 2020 (Saturday)
Time: 10:30am (light breakfast reception begins at 10:00am)
Venue: Asia Society Hong Kong Center, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty
Registration: Register via Asia Society Online Ticketing

One of the greatest cases of Sino-European cultural interaction before 1911 took place in the Qing court when emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong hosted and patronized a number of Jesuit artists and artisans from Europe. The Jesuits were trying to impress the emperors with supposedly superior scientific knowledge in order to help spread Christianity in China, while the emperors integrated the missionaries’ foreign painting techniques into court art to extend their own political ends.

This talk presents two cases of this remarkable cultural exchange, analyzing the techniques and effects of realism in illusionistic wall paintings designed by the famous Italian brother Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining, 1688-1766) and in military portraits by the more obscure French brother Jean-Denis Attiret (Wang Zhicheng, 1702-68). Both artists worked directly for the Qianlong emperor (r.1736-95), faithfully serving his imperial ideology, and both achieved a degree of intercultural fusion rarely seen anywhere else.

Art and its Histories: Scholars in Lecture is a series of public lectures organized by the Department of Fine Arts, HKU and presented in collaboration with Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Friends of Hong Kong Museum of Art, and The University of Hong Kong Museum Society. The programs aim to deliver current art-historical thinking in an accessible manner presented by specialists in the field. The series is part of the Fine Art Department’s broader dedication to promoting the importance and relevance of art history in Hong Kong.

Speaker: Greg Thomas

Prof. Thomas teaches various aspects of European and American art and architecture from the 18th to 20th centuries, as well as the first-year survey of western art. A specialist in 19th-century French art, he has published Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau (Princeton, 2000) and Impressionist Children: Childhood, Family, and Modern Identity in French Art (Yale, 2010). Recent research has focused on artistic interactions between Europe and China in the 18th and 19th centuries, part of a long-term study of the Chinese palace of Yuanming Yuan. He has published two major articles on Yuanming Yuan and its looting (in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Autumn 2008; and in Art History, February 2009), along with other essays on landscape painting and ecology, Impressionism, and French and British engagement with Chinese culture. He is also the assistant editor of the 13-volume Wuming (No Name) Painting Catalogue, (Hong Kong University Press, 2010), which surveys the Wuming group of painters active in Beijing in the 1970s.