Two Paintings of Deer Antlers

Qianlong Emperor Chinese

Not on view

The Qianlong Emperor practiced both calligraphy and painting as a way of identifying himself with Chinese literati ideals of self-cultivation. However, the subject matter of these two scrolls reveals his concomitant desire to align himself with Manchu hunting traditions. Furthermore, the realistic rendering of texture and three-dimensional form reflects the influence of Western pictorial techniques, introduced to the court by Jesuit painters such as Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766).

The earlier of the two scrolls depicts the antlers of a spotted deer. In his accompanying inscription, the emperor recalls seeing a gigantic pair of eight-point antlers procured by his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722), in Central Asia—considered at the time to be an auspicious sign.

The second scroll, painted five years later, presents the horns of a species known in the West as Père David, so named for the eponymous Jesuit missionary and naturalist (1826–1900) who first recorded it in a Western source. In his accompanying essay, Qianlong describes different deer species and seeks to correct misleading distinctions made in the Book of Rites, a classic Confucian text.

Two Paintings of Deer Antlers, Qianlong Emperor (Chinese, (1711–1799; r. 1736–95)), Two handscrolls; ink and color on paper, China

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