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The Kangxi Emperor Reading

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Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: ink and color on silk
Format: hanging scroll

Artist(s): Anonymous court artist

Dimensions: 138 × 106.5 cm

The Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) studied traditional culture of China from childhood. On the one hand, he acquired knowledge of governing the country from the Confucian classics. On the other hand, he esteemed the orthodox ideology of Confucianism to cultivate Han officials' good will, to influence their thoughts and to consolidate the Manchu administration. With such strategies, Kangxi created the unprecedented prosperity of the Qing dynasty. Therefore he commissioned paintings depicting him reading and writing to show his fascination with Chinese culture.   
  Undoubtedly a good likeness, this painting depicts the emperor when he was about forty-five, sitting cross-legged in his study in front of bookcases and dressed in simple blue robes. The books in the bookcases are in traditional Chinese format: each work consists of a number of thin, stitched volumes that are stored flat in a silk-covered box. What makes this portrait unusual is its European influence. For instance, the shadow on the wall suggests an invisible light source that also illuminates the emperor and his book. The emperor's eyes seem to twinkle. Western linear perspective has been emphasized to the point of seeming academic. The amalgamated style demonstrates that Chinese artists were attempting to paint a traditional subject in a western way. This painting exemplifies the exchange of two distinct cultures.

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