Enfilade

Getty Research Institute Acquires a Rare Set of Chinese Battle Prints

Posted in museums by Editor on February 3, 2013

Press release (17 January 2013) from The Getty:

Pictures of the Campaigns against the Gurkhas

Ping ding Kuoerke zhan tu, or Pictures of the Campaigns against the Gurkhas
(i.e., Nepalese), China, ca. 1793 (LA: The Getty Research Institute)

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The Getty Research Institute (GRI) has acquired an extraordinarily rare suite of battle prints from about 1793 that depict the Chinese Emperor Qianlong’s (reign era, 1736–1795) successful military campaign against invading armies from Nepal. These eight large-format copper engravings represent the complete set of prints commissioned by the Emperor to commemorate his 1792 victory. Printed in China, this set is one of seven so-called ‘Conquest’ suites.

“The rarity of these prints makes them an extraordinary addition to the GRI’s stellar collections depicting ‘China on Paper,’ highlighting cross-cultural relationships between Europeans and Chinese,” said Marcia Reed, Chief Curator at the Getty Research Institute. “Because the GRI holds strong collections of related works, it’s extremely beneficial to bring the collections already in place and these prints together for future research and publication.”

The scenes show dynamic landscapes of undulating mountains which seem to envelope the troops marching and fighting amidst their peaks and valleys. One plate depicts the victorious emperor being carried towards a yurt in front of a grand hall. The defeated soldiers of the enemy are grouped on the left, all on their knees. Each print includes a poem at the top of the engraved print; the poems were based on the Emperor’s own personal commentary on the scenes.

Prints such as these made their way into China from Europe in the 1700s and the emperor would have been given gifts of panoramic battle prints by visiting European dignitaries. In 1765 he ordered drawings to be made from monumental paintings commemorating his recent victories. These drawings, made by Jesuits employed by Qianlong’s court, were sent to Paris for engraving and printing. Created by Europeans for a Chinese audience, the prints were very European in appearance, with Chinese visual tropes incorporated in the drawings. When the prints were received at court, poetry was added to them—a very Chinese touch.

The Pictures of the Campaigns against the Gurkhas break away from this hybrid imagery. Though inspired by a European tradition and using French printing techniques, the drawings are notably Chinese in composition and style.

As part of the GRI’s special collection, these prints will now be available for scholarly research. The GRI’s vaults hold rare and unique collections in art history and visual culture from around the world, including more than 27,000 prints ranging from the Renaissance to the present.

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Additional information and illustrations are available at Amy Hood’s posting on the Getty’s blog, The Iris»

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