Conceiving and Completing "One Hundred Horses"

Giuseppe Castiglione achieved marvelous results in painting during the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), his monumental masterpiece of "One Hundred Horses" being completed then. This long handscroll depicts a hundred steeds by a riverbank, the horses appearing in different manners and poses. Some are at leisure and peace, while others romp with energy, making this painting of a hun-dred horses exceptionally varied.

The handscroll begins at the right with two stately pines trees filling the surface, skillfully setting the stage for scenery that is nearly eight meters long. With a consistent horizon and height maintained throughout, Giuseppe Castiglione presents horses being led to pasture on the plains, a horse being bathed by the bank, horses crossing water, and a vast and deep vista that present fascinating views of these majestic animals. According to archives from the Qing imperial household, Castiglione was ordered to paint a handscroll of one hundred horses in the third lunar month of the Yongzheng emperor's second year (1724), serving as documentary evidence for the production of this scroll. For Castiglione and other artists, the actual process of painting for the Qing court was quite complicated, including making a preparatory drawing for imperial review before the final version could be done. Fortunately, the draft for "One Hundred Horses" still survives. Borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, audiences can now compare it with the final version in the National Palace Museum, offering an ideal opportunity to study the mechanism of academic painting at the Qing court.


Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione, 1688-1766), Qing dynasty

One Hundred Horses

  1. Handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 94.5 x 776 cm

This handscroll, completed in 1728, depicts a hundred steeds in various poses within a horizontally stretching landscape to create a majestic scene of pasturing. The horizon line for the landscape is maintained at a two-thirds height throughout, creating for a complete and contiguous sense of space across the surface of the painting and the scenery. The trees and other motifs are also shown in correct proportion to suggest a spatial effect of level distance. The technique in the painting differs from that of traditional Chinese art, with the artist, Giuseppe Castiglione, utilizing areas of light and dark colors for the forms to suggest their volumetric quality and to express a sense of light and shadow as well. As for the horses, though their forms are outlined with lines, they are mostly modeled with areas of color. Castiglione, however, consciously subdued the shadows for the forms to preserve their solidity but without creating a dramatic contrast between light and dark. This work can be seen as Castiglione’s way of actively integrating the qualities of two disparate painting traditions.