In the early 1760s the Qianlong Emperor commissioned the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) and three other missionaries at the court to design a first series of drawings commemorating his military victories. Once completed, these were sent to France to be engraved on copper plates and were shipped back to Beijing between 1772 and 1775. Qianlong was so pleased with this set that he later desired similar commemorative prints to be made of his other military campaigns. By the time of the Formosa campaign, however, all four of the Jesuit painters who had worked on the first series, had died, hence court painters were employed instead. The present set, commemorating Qianlong's compaigns in Taiwan to quell rebellious factions on the island, were first painted by Chinese Qing court painters, including Yang Dazhang, Jia Quan, Xie Sui, Zhuang Yude, Li Ming, and Yao Wenhan, and were printed between 1788 and 1790 in Qing imperial workshops, rather than relying on Jesuit painters and European printing. A complete set is preserved in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.
Two complete sets of copper-plate engravings commemorating the Formosa campaign were sold in our Hong Kong rooms, the first, from the collection of Lord Elgin, Plenipotentiary to China, 27th April 2003, lot 35, and the second, 9th October 2007, lot 131. A third set, in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, is illustrated in Herbert Butz, Bilder für die Halle des Purpurglanzes, Berlin, 2003, pl. 26, together with the engraved copper plate, pl. 27. Another three engravings from this Formosa series are in the Musée Guimet, Paris, illustrated in Michèle Pirazzoli-t'Serstevens, Gravures des Conquêtes de l'Empereur de Chine K'ien-long au Musée Guimet, Paris, 1969, pp 44-46.
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