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[Lecture] Where Dragon Veins Meet: Spatial Art History and the Kangxi Emperor’s Mountain Estate

OCT . 29 2021


Stephen H.Whiteman (Senior Lecturer in Art and Architecture of China, University of London Courtauld Institute of Art )

October 29, 2021(Friday) 16:00-18:00

Tencent Meeting

School of Arts Peking University

Liu Chen (Assistant Professor, Peking University School of Arts)

English with Mandarin translation

In the northeastern parts of Beijing, within the mountains between the Capital and Inner Mongolia sits Chengde —— a prefecture-level city with no more than a population of 500,000. By China’s standards today, this city’s population made Chengde a relatively small city. Yet in the 18th century, it was one of the Qing empire’s most important power centers. Close to half the time in mid-year, the Qing court will move to Chengde’s palace and garden complex —— the Mountain Estate to Escape the Heat.

In 1702, the Kangxi Emperor placed a decree to build a new summer palace in Rehe, which is today’s Chengde. This traveling palace — later named as “Mountain Estate to escape the heat” (will be hereafter referred to as Mountain Estate) —— actually became the alternate capital. In the last decade of Kangxi Emperor’s life, he would live in this place from late Autumn to early Spring every year. Majority of what remains of the mountain estate garden palace today were from building and developments in Qianlong’s time. It changed the environment and experience of living in the mountain estate and shifted the basic design direction of it. As such, many researchers have yet to resolve the problem of differentiating mountain estate pictures between Kangxi and Qianlong’s times, and from therein, how to extract the designs and the intentions of constructing the mountain estate in Kangxi’s time.

Amidst, View of Rehe by Leng Mei is one real example of an existing piece of the landscape of the mountain estate from Kangxi’s time. In the artworks of this court painter who usually draws figure paintings in small album formats, View of Rehe’s composition is unusual. We can see the landscape of the Mountain Estate in Kangxi’s time preserved in this piece of artwork via drawing techniques, landscape drawing, print, perspective and measurement. In the transmedia space that the landscape materials and painting construction compose, the landscape itself, drawing techniques and demands of the imperial power gradually forms a triangular position, exhibiting the importance of Qing’s Mountain Estate in the auspicious fengshui geography, as well as expressing the expectations of ideals for the empire and the image of an Emperor.

Stephen H. Whiteman received both his MA in East Asian Studies and PhD in Art History from Stanford University. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Art and Architecture of China in University of London Courtauld Institute of Art. His research focuses on early modern history of China in their global contexts, with an interest in landscape, mapping and visual culture. His first book Thirty-Six Views: The Kangxi Emperor’s Mountain Estate in Poetry and Prints received the ”John Brinkerhoff Jackson Book Price from the Foundation for Landscape Studies in 2017.

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Written by: Vissly Chan Shun Ling
Edited by: Fu Jiaqi
Source: Peking University School of Arts