Inception and Reception of Western Illusionistic Techniques in Qing Court Art



Tran, Tammy

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Between 16th to 18th centuries, both the eastern and western culture entered a period of new art, ideas and trade. Although both cultures have been generally viewed separately through different lenses, recent scholarships have begun questioning the interconnections and interactions between the two. I am interested in situating my thesis topic around the artistic exchanges between Europe and China and more specifically the inception of western perspectival illusionistic technique in Chinese art. One of the outcomes from this artistic exposure was a new form of imperial art that managed to break away from the traditional canon of Chinese art. The impact of this new Qing imperial art created social tensions, conflict and possibly enchantment for its contemporary viewers. Some of these images were generally not well-received by majority of the Qing court at first. However, these artworks were only made possible due to the Qing emperors reacting positively towards illusionistic paintings. One of the questions are, why did the Qing emperors find these illusionistic paintings pleasing or useful as they steered away from the philosophy of Chinese art that was instilled for over a thousand years? This paper uses the concepts of transculturation and object agency to see how the incorporation of western techniques may have functioned in some Qing imperial art commissions. Ultimately, I suggest that these new forms of art, which utilize western illusionistic techniques, are “agents” that allowed the Emperor to convey a political message to viewers, his subjects, and allow the Emperor to indirectly exercise his authority.


This thesis has been embargoed for 5 years. It will not be available until May 2022 at the earliest.


Qing Court art, Illusionistic techniques, Imperial art, Kanpei, Yongzheng, Qianlong