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August 28, 2019

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Castiglione 100horses.jpg

[This is a portion of the painting. Click on the graphic for the rest of it...you will have to scroll to see the whole thing]

One Hundred Horses (百駿圖)
Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining (郎世寧))

Giuseppe Castiglione was a classically trained artist who was also a Jesuit missionary to China. He eventually ended up as an artist in the Qing imperial court, including working for the Qianlong Emperor. In China, he goes by the name Ling Shining and is one of the very few Westerners to have mastered Chinese art. His mature style combines the aesthetics of both cultures.

In this work, Castiglione creates a quiet, lovely pastoral. The horses are out to pasture and dominate the composition. They each have distinct personalities as they rest, play, fight, eat, or just calmly stand around. There’s a round-up in the background. Humans are kept to a minimum, regulated mostly to the edges or in the distant middle ground. The animals are common in the art of East and West, but in traditional Chinese art, horses have a stockier build with smaller heads and shorter legs, which Castiglione depicts here, and are very prominent in the art of its classical period. In the West, horses have symbolized Man’s authority over Nature and his ability to tame it for his own purposes.

The landscape is all Chinese. Castiglione mastered the ancient Art of the Brush and uses all native media to paint this work. It is a monotone line drawing that uses washes of tone as a base. Textures and shading are illusions produced by cross-hostaing, stippling, or other linear tricks. The canvas itself seems to actually be a silk scroll that should be unrolled and read very slowly from right to left. Starting at the extreme right is an extreme foreground view. As your eye wanders left the trees gradually roll back to reveal gentle hills and rugged mountains in the distant haze. The land gets progressively more difficult as it recedes. Continuing left, the contours of the landscaped features slowly return to the foreground. The painting will continue to weave back and forth its whole length but more and more features will be added as it goes. One of the ideas of Chinese landscape painting is to mimic a meandering stroll through a nature trail in a park. You enjoy the peace and quiet and the beauty of nature around you. And just as you can only see what’s only in front of you, this work reveals itself a little at a time as you scroll through it. It ends on the left with a full view of foreground, middle ground and background together.

But Castiglione was an Italian trained in the Renaissance tradition. Therefore he adds mathematical perspective, atmospheric perspective, and shading to create mass. The colors are restrained with only dashes of reds and blues here and there, mostly in the clothing of the humans, to keep the work quiet and the mood serene. Interestingly, most of the horses are neutral-colored except for two bright roans that frame the work’s center. I’m not sure what the artist is trying to say here, but the two animals’ heads are almost equidistant from the mountain peak at the dead center. The resulting triangle may represent stability and simplicity but it is also a symbol of the Holy Trinity (the artist was a monk). I’ll leave the interpretations of this to the Moron Council.

Finally, Castiglione seems to have added an easter-egg in the form of the couple next to the tent on the right. It reminds me of the group in Titian’s “Pastoral Concert”. I don’t recall ever seeing horses as the main subject of a Western Pastoral—cows, sheep, goats, yes. This may then be another example of cultural blending.

As someone who has studied and taught the history of art from many different eras and cultures, the most annoying trend in current political debate is the stupid, destructive and ahistorical idea that cultural appropriation is bad. Cultural appropriation, or syncretism, is the borrowing, adopting and adapting of ideas—aesthetic, philosophical, ideological, etc.—by cultures to create a new tradition. Both sides do it and both sides are the richer for it. Syncretism has been happening since the first meeting of two different groups of humans, and will continue as long as different groups of humanity exist. It will only end when Man becomes absorbed into a collective hive mind. This work is just one example of the syncretic beauty created when two cultures share and absorb each other’s traditions.

[Kris has graciously agreed (after much begging from me), to write an occasional art thread. Look for her name in the headline so you won't be surprised to find actual informed art criticism on these august pages]

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posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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