Giuseppe Castiglione, S.J. (July 19, 1688 – July 17, 1766), was an Italian Jesuit lay brother who served as a missionary in China, where he became a painter at the court of the emperor.
Born in Milan’s San Marcellino district, in his early years Castiglione studied painting with Carlo Cornara of the renowned Bottega degli Stampatori painting studio. In 1709 he became a Jesuit. Although a Jesuit, he was never a priest. He was rather a lay brother.
The Jesuits in China having asked for a painter to be sent to the imperial court in Beijing, Castiglione volunteered and was accepted. In 1710 on the way to Lisbon he passes through Coimbra where he is kept several years to decorate the chapel of St. Francis Borgia in the Church of the novitiate, today Coimbra’s Cathedral, and painted a “circumcision” on the main altar of the same church.
In 1715, Castiglione arrived in China as a missionary. While there, Castiglione took the name Lang Shining. His skill as an artist was appreciated by the Emperor Qianlong and Castiglione spent many years in the court painting various subjects, including the portraits of the Emperor and Empress.
Castiglione’s work served as the subject for a series of “Battle Copper Prints” commissioned by the Emperor to commemorate his military campaigns. Small-scale copies of his paintings were shipped to Paris and rendered into copperplate intaglio before being returned to China. A series of sixteen prints by Castiglione and his contemporaries Jean-Denis Attiret, Ignatius Sichelbart and Jean-Damascène Sallusti were created in this way.
Castiglione’s style was a unique blend of European sensibility with Chinese technique and themes. The style was however modified according to Chinese taste – strong shadows used in chiaroscuro techniques were unacceptable as Emperor Qianlong thought that shadows looked like dirt, therefore when Castiglione painted the emperor, the intensity of the light was reduced so that there was no shadow on the face, and the features were distinct.
In addition to his demonstrable skill as a painter, he was also in charge of designing the Western-Style Palaces in the imperial gardens of the Old Summer Palace. This prominent Jesuit artist, architect, and missionary died in Beijing.