A native of Milan, Castiglione entered the Society of Jesus in 1707 to become a coadjutor brother, not a priest. Trained as a portrait artist and desiring to go to China, he left Italy in 1709 but was delayed in Coimbra, Portugal, for five years. In December 1715 he arrived in Peking (Beijing), where for the rest of his life he served K’ang-hsi (Kangxi), Yung-cheng (Yongzheng), and Ch’ien-lung (Qianlong) emperors of the Ch’ing (Qing) dynasty. Since Chinese painting styles infrequently incorporated portraits, Castiglione concentrated on nature and became famous in the history of Chinese art for his remarkable style in depicting horses.
He was the principal designer and builder of the gardens in the Yuan Ming Yuan summer palace, then located on the outskirts of Peking. The Qianlong emperor took a personal interest in Castiglione’s work. On two occasions, in 1737 and 1746, when the emperor visited the artist’s workshop, Castiglione went on his knees to ask that the persecution of Christians be lifted. For Castiglione’s seventieth birthday, the emperor ordered that gifts and an inscription he had personally written, be sent to the Jesuit residence in a public ceremony. After Castiglione’s death, by a special decree the emperor conferred honors on him.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- C. and M. Beurdeley, Giuseppe Castiglione: A Jesuit Painter at the Court of the Chinese Emperors (1971); Joseph Dehergne, Repertoire des Jesuites de Chine de 1552 a 1800 (1973), pp. 48-49; Mikinosuke Ishida, “A Biographical Study of Giuseppe Castiglione,” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, no. 19 (1960): 79-122; George R. Loehr, Guiseppe Castiglione, pittore de Corte de Ch’ien-Lung (l940); Victoria Siu, “Castiglione and the Yuanming Yuan Collections,” Orientations 19, no. 11 (November 1988): 72-79.