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Imperial Illusions

In the Forbidden City and other palaces around Beijing, Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1795) surrounded himself with monumental paintings of architecture, gardens, people, and faraway places. The best artists of the imperial painting academy, including a number of European missionary painters, used Western perspectival illusionism to transform walls and ceilings with visually striking images that were also deeply meaningful to Qianlong. These unprecedented works not only offer new insights into late imperial China's most influential emperor, but also reflect one way in which Chinese art integrated and domesticated foreign ideas. In Imperial Illusions, Kristina Kleutghen examines all known surviving examples of the Qing court phenomenon of "scenic illusion paintings" (tongjinghua), which today remain inaccessible inside the Forbidden City. Produced at the height of early modern cultural exchange between China and Europe, these works have received little scholarly attention. Richly illustrated, Imperial Illusions offers the first comprehensive investigation of the aesthetic, cultural, perceptual, and political importance of these illusionistic paintings essential to Qianlong's world. For more information:
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An important and highly original contribution to the field of Chinese art history. -- Robert E. Harrist Jr., Columbia University Ambitious, intelligently conceived and realized, and exceptionally well written. Rather than being isolated curiosities, in this exposition the illusions are seen as part of a long-term and spatially extensive interest that engaged the talents and energies of many for more than a century. Kleutghen combines recent scholarship, archival research, and close analysis of surviving monuments to offer an expansive account. -- Richard Vinograd, Stanford University

About the Author

Kristina Kleutghen is assistant professor of art history and archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis.


[A] remarkably well-documented study. . . . [R]ich and stimulating. . . . There is no doubt that Imperial Illusions is an important contribution and provides a new perspective on visual culture at the Qianlong court. -- Michele Pirazzoli-t'Serstevens * Journal of Asian Studies * Kristina Kleutghen's carefully conceived new study. . . sits comfortably at the intersection of these two academic subfields, and provides specialists of both with an overdue, in-depth analysis of this remarkable moment of cross-cultural encounter. . . . The reader familiar with the historiography on the Qing will find a remarkably cohesive review of recent scholarship as it applies to the visual arts; to the nonspecialist, the volume provides an excellent entree to Qing visual culture and the Qianglong Empire (1711-1799, r. 1736-1795). . . . Imperial Illusions provides the ideal platform for rethinking eighteenth-century court art as distinctively Qing. -- Michele Matteini * CAA Reviews * This trans-disciplinary book is relevant not just to the history of art and of the high Qing, but also to the history of science and technology -- Carla Nappi * New Books in East Asian Studies *

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