Giuseppe Castiglione, S.J. (simplified Chinese: 郎世宁; traditional Chinese: 郎世寧; pinyin: Lángshìníng) (19 July 1688 – 17 July 17 1766), was an Italian Jesuit lay brother and a missionary in China, where he served as an artist at the imperial court of three emperors – the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors.
Castiglione was born in Milan‘s San Marcellino district in 19 July 1688. He was educated privately at home with a private tutor. He also learned painting under the guidance of a master. In 1707, he entered the Society of Jesus in Genoa aged 19. Although a Jesuit, he was never a priest. Rather, he was a lay brother.
In the late 17th century, a number of European Jesuit painters served in the Qing court of the Kangxi Emperor who was interested in employing European Jesuits trained in various fields, including painting. In the early 18th century, the Jesuits in China made a request for a painter to be sent to the imperial court in Beijing. Castiglione was identified as a promising candidate and he accepted the post. In 1710 on the way to Lisbon he passed through Coimbra where he stayed for several years to decorate the chapel of St. Francis Borgia in the Church of the novitiate, today the New Cathedral of Coimbra, and painted a Circumcision of Jesus for the main altar of the same church.
In 1715, Castiglione arrived in China, and stayed at a Jesuit church called St Joseph Mission or Eastern Hall (Dong Tang) in Chinese. He was presented to the Kangxi Emperor who viewed his painting of a dog, another source said also a bird painted on the spot on Kangxi’s request. He was assigned a few disciples, however he initially placed to work as an artisan in the palace enameling workshop.
While in China, Castiglione took the name Lang Shining (郎世寧). Castiglione adapted his Western painting style to Chinese themes and taste. His earliest surviving painting created in such style was from the first year of Yongzheng‘s reign in 1723. Although Castaglione was favoured by Yongzheng who commissioned a number of works by him, Yongzheng’s reign was a difficult period for Jesuits as Christianity was suppressed and those missionaries not working for the emperor were expelled.
His skill as an artist was appreciated by the Qianlong Emperor, and Castiglione served the Emperor for three decades and was granted increasingly higher ofﬁcial rank within the Qing court. He spent many years in the court painting various subjects, including the portraits of the emperor and empress. Qianlong showed particularly interest in paintings of tribute horses presented to Emperor on which Castiglione painted a series. In 1765, Castiglione and other Jesuit painters also created 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 engravings with etching before being returned to China. A series of sixteen prints by Castiglione (who contributed two) and his contemporaries Jean-Denis Attiret, Ignatius Sichelbart and Jean-Damascène Sallusti were created in this way.
Castiglione died in Beijing in 17 July 1766.