February 10, 2011
June 19, 2011
Graphic Cabinet, the Academy’s ongoing series of exhibitions showcasing highlights from the Academy’s vast and significant collection of work on paper, focuses on Depictions of Victories Over the Zunghars and the Muslim Tribes. This series of 16 engravings is one of the most remarkable instances of international collaboration in world art.
Inspired by his admiration for imported copperplate engravings of battle scenes, the Chinese Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) commissioned foreign missionary artists at his court to prepare 16 drawings commemorating the victories of his troops over the Mongolian Zunghar Empire and various Muslim tribes in Central Asia. The artists included Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), an Italian Jesuit; Jean-Denis Attiret (1702-1768), a French Jesuit; Ignatius Sichelbart (1707-1780), a Bohemian Jesuit; and Giovanni Damasceno (d. 1781), an Italian Augustinian.
The drawings were sent to France, where they attracted the attention of no less than King Louis XV (r. 1715-1774). They were entrusted to Secretary-Historiographer of the Academy of Painting Charles-Nicolas Cochin II (1715-1790), who did not find the drawings suitable for engraving in their original state. In particular, he had to rework the lesser artist Damasceno’s first drawing significantly, delaying its production. Preparation of the plates and printing was slow, and the first engravings were not returned to China until 1772, four years later than anticipated, and the last arrived in 1775. In China, the engravings were tremendously influential, and encouraged Qianlong to undertake additional engraving projects using Chinese artists, beginning with a set of 20 depictions of the European Pavilions in the imperial residence produced from 1783 to 1786.
The Academy is one of the few museums in the world to possess a complete set of the original 16 engravings of the Depictions of Victories Over the Zunghars and the Muslim Tribes.—SHAWN EICHMAN CURATOR OF ASIAN ART