The Old Summer Palace and the Rhetoric of National Treasures

Derek Gillman


Among the European missionary groups in China, only the Jesuits established themselves firmly at court, first in the late Ming and then under the succeeding Qing dynasty. The Milanese painter and lay brother Giuseppe Castiglione (Ch. Lang Shining) served three successive Manchu emperors, designing a suite of late Baroque buildings for the Yuanmingyuan, an imperial palace to the north-west of Beijing. When the palace was looted and burned during the Second Opium War, a set of bronze zodiacal water spouts designed by Castiglione disappeared from Beijing, only to re-appear publicly at auction during the last 30 years. Ai Weiwei has replicated the set, both in bronze and gilt bronze, questioning its Chinese pedigree and, more broadly, whether objects commissioned by an occupying power can be regarded as national treasures, an issue especially relevant to China since large parts of the country were under foreign rule for almost a third of its imperial history. Castiglione  s now regarded in China and Taiwan as a highly significant figure in Chinese painting history.

Słowa kluczowe: China, Castiglione, looting, Ai Weiwei, national treasure

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