Backgrounder: The Qianlong Garden
Covering almost two acres, or about 6,400 square meters, of the Ningshougong (Palace of Tranquility and Longevity) District in the northeast quadrant of the Forbidden City, the Qianlong Garden was built between 1771 and 1776 by the fourth Emperor of the Qing Dynasty to serve as a part of his residence after his 60-year reign. Known as much for his artistic interests as for his political leadership, the Qianlong Emperor designed the Garden as a “miniForbidden City” within the Forbidden City. The Garden’s opulent buildings in the complex preserve decoration and furnishings from a time widely considered to be one of the boldest and most extravagant periods of interior design in China’s history.
The Qianlong Emperor’s reign coincided with a key moment in the history of China. Under his sovereignty, China was the world’s largest and richest nation, and was extensively engaged with Europe and America. While the impact of Chinese art and architecture on European art of this period is well known, Juanqinzhai (Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service) and other interiors of the Qianlong Garden reveal that this influence was reciprocal. The large-scale trompe l’oeil paintings and wall coverings in a number of the Garden’s buildings were influenced by Giuseppe Castiglione, a Jesuit missionary and painter who settled in China around 1715. The large trompe l’oeil silk murals, which incorporate European methods of perspective and chiaroscuro, are some of the very few surviving examples of their genre not only in the Forbidden City but in all of China.