Chinese : Yuanmingyuan tujing

Ilantai 伊蘭泰, active c. 1749-1793.


<p style='text-align: justify;'>This is a series of engravings, depicting the European Palaces on the site of the Old Summer Palace (Yuanming yuan 圓明園, ‘Gardens of Perfect Brightness’) in Beijing. In summer the emperors lived, worked, and entertained in their palaces outside Beijing's city walls. While this complex was constructed by Chinese craftsmen, some elements were designed by Europeans. In 1747, Emperor Qianlong employed the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione as designer of European-style palaces and gardens. The French Jesuit Michel Benoist engineered several fountains. The site was renamed the ‘Old’ Summer Palace only after it was looted and destroyed by British and French troops at the end of the Second Opium War (1860). </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>One engraving, for example, shows a part of <a dir='auto' href='' onclick='store.loadPage(56);return false;'>Haiyantang 海晏堂 (Hall of Peaceful Seas)</a>. Haiyantang was a part of the European-style ‘Western Mansions’ (Xiyang lou 西洋樓) on the site. The drawing contains a famous element of Haiyantang, the zodiac fountain: a water clock fountain with twelve Chinese zodiac stone statues with bronze animal heads (usually attributed to Castiglione). The bronze heads were among the objects looted by British and French troops in 1860 and have become a famous example of attempts to repatriate Chinese cultural artefacts.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>These European-style copperplate prints were commissioned by Emperor Qianlong and the project supervised by the court official and artist Ilantai (伊蘭泰), a student of Castiglione. The project began in 1781 and was completed by February 1787.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This set was sent by Father François Bourgeois from Beijing to Louis-François Delatour in France, probably in 1786. It includes an <a dir='auto' href='' onclick='store.loadPage(11);return false;'>additional unfinished watercolour painting of Plate 1 </a>(here labelled Plate 2). The condition of the plates suggests that these were a set of proofs completed before the official presentation to the Emperor in 1787. The plates were subsequently mounted on sheets of French paper and bound in an album. (see John Finlay, 'Henry Bertin (1720-1792) and Images of the Yuanmingyuan in Eigtheenth-century France' pp. 129-131 for full details).</p>

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