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


Art and its Histories: Scholars in Lecture by Fine Arts Department, Hong Kong University


Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining), Spring’s Peaceful Message, hanging scroll, color on paper, c.1736, collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Light Breakfast Reception 10:00am
Lecture 10:30am 
Close 11:30am

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. 

greg thomas

Greg Thomas is a Professor of art history in the Department of Fine Arts at The University of Hong Kong. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University and has worked at HKU since 1999, teaching the department’s survey of western art and advanced courses on European art of the 18thand 19thcenturies, modern western architecture, and intercultural interactions. A specialist in 19th-century French painting, he has published Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau (Princeton University Press, 2000) andImpressionist Children: Childhood, Family, and Modern Identity in French Art (Yale University Press, 2010). Recent research has focused on Sino-European cultural interaction in the 18thand 19thcenturies, and he is currently working on a book examining European engagements with Chinese art and architecture at the palace of Yuanming Yuan.


Event Details

Sat 11 Jan 2020
10 - 11:30 a.m.

Asia Society Hong Kong Center, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty

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ASHK Members/Friends of Hong Kong Museum of Art/HKU Museum Society $150; Non-members $250; Students Free (Full-time students may register by email to
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