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Taipei honours Jesuit artist at museum anniversary

TAIPEI (AsiaNews): A major exhibition marking the 90th anniversary of what is universally regarded as one of the greatest museums in the world, the Museum of the National Palace, which has displays in both Taipei and Beijing, opened an exhibition of the extraordinary work of Father Giuseppe Castiglione sj at the Taipei site on October 8.

Father Castiglione was born in Milan, Italy, and was a widely acclaimed artist. He lived for 51 years in the Forbidden City of Beijing after his arrival in China exactly 300 years ago.

As a Jesuit scholastic, he left Genoa for Portugal and subsequently China immediately after completing novitiate, arriving in the Middle Kingdom in 1715.

His unique artistic skills enabled him to serve three emperors of the Qing Dynasty (Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong) and he became an artist of reference in the history of China.

He succeeded in calibrating and linking two pictorial traditions; the Chinese, based on ink and rice paper; and western use of oil painting, chiaroscuro and perspective.

For the first time, two paintings have been shipped to Taipei from the Pius Martinez Institute of Genoa, along with other works housed at the French National Library in Paris, and one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the United States of America to complete a collection of the artist’s work.

Also an entire section is devoted to a beautiful multimedia show based on the works of the Jesuit priest from Milan. The production is the work of the University of Technology of Hong Kong and its display includes depictions of prints from the Taipei studio.

The museum director was joined by the president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, in opening the exhibition. A large number of local people, as well as numerous international authorities, diplomatic and academic delegations were also present.

Among them was the owner of Franz Ceramic Industries, who presented Ma with a ceramic based on Father Castiglione’s famous One Hundred Horses, which was presented to Pope Francis at the beginning of his pontificate.

This year has seen widespread interest in Father Castiglione’s work after the success of a documentary, Giuseppe Castiglione in China: The imperial painter, humble servant, jointly produced by Jiangsu Television in Nanjing and Kuangchi Programme Service in Taipei was aired in China last April.

A special viewing was arranged in Milan on September 30 for a few hundred guests.

At the Church of the Holy Cross in Florence there is an ongoing digital media exhibition of the works of Father Castiglione, which is proving popular.

Father Castiglione’s humility, his artistic talent and hard work are apparent in the manner he merged two artistically and culturally distant worlds—the European and the Chinese.

His legacy continues in a dialogue and an encounter which transcends all possible differences and divergent views. It is no coincidence that the emperor, Qianlong, entrusted the design and construction of the pavilions of the Old Summer Palace on the western outskirts of Beijing to the elderly Father Castiglione, even though he ever only regarded himself as a humble artist.

His works now represent both a source of Chinese national pride and the finesse of the Renaissance period in Europe, in which Father Castiglione was formed as a young artist.

His baptismal certificate, dated 1688, is still preserved in the diocesan archives in Milan.

The treasures of his art have amazed visitors to the Taipei museum. The exhibition will continue for four months, placing the Jesuit priest’s works, with their most minute detail and exquisite beauty, on public display.


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