Lifting the Siege of the Black River
The “Battle Copper Prints” are a series of prints from copper engravings dating from the second half of the 18th century. They were commissioned by the Qianlong emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), who ruled from 1735 to 1796. They depict his military campaigns in China’s inner provinces and along the country’s frontiers. The master illustrations for the engravings were large paintings done by European missionary artists employed at that time at the court in Beijing. These artists were Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766), French Jesuit Jean-Denis Attiret (1702–68), Bohemian Jesuit Ignatius Sichelbarth (1708–80), and the Italian Augustinian missionary, Jean-Damascène Sallusti (d. 1781). The engravings of the first set of 16 paintings were not produced in China but were executed in Paris, at that time home to the best European artisans working in this technique. The emperor even decreed that the work emulate the style of the Augsburg copper engraver Georg Philipp Rugendas the Elder (1666–1742), whose work he knew. Small-scale copies of the paintings by Castiglione and his Beijing colleagues were sent to Paris to be transferred on to copperplates, printed, and then sent back to China, along with the plates and prints. Later sets of engravings were executed in Peking by Chinese apprentices of the Jesuits and differ markedly in style and elaborateness from those of the Paris series. Qianlong's battle copper prints were just one of the means the Manchu emperor employed to document his campaigns of military expansion and suppression of regional unrest. They served to glorify his rule and to exert ideological control over Chinese historiography. In the history of Chinese art, copper-print engraving remained an episode. Seen in their political context, the Qianlong prints represent a distinct and exceptional pictorial genre and are telling examples of the self-dramatization of imperial state power. The East Asia Department of the Berlin State Library holds a set of five series with a total of 64 prints. This is one of 16 prints in the Paris series, which depict Qianlong’s 1755–57 campaign to annex the Zunghar Khanate, a nomadic empire mainly located on territory of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of present-day northwest China.
The Chinese Imperial Court, Beijing, China
Title in Original Language
Type of Item
51.5 centimeters high and 89.6 centimeters wide; copper plate prints
Last updated: July 8, 2014