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Virtual Realities: Extreme Illusionism in Qing Court Painting

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Virtual Realities: Extreme Illusionism in Qing Court Painting

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Speaker: Dr. Elaine Pierce

Creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface has historically been a goal of some artists both in Europe and China, but utilizing very different approaches. What were the tricks of the trade used by these artists and how was illusionistic art valued by its audiences? In the early 18th century, a collision of these two traditions occurred, primarily between a supreme connoisseur, the Qianlong Emperor, and an extraordinarily versatile artist, Giuseppe Castiglione, also known as Lang Shining. The marvels in art and architecture that they co-created will be the subject of this lecture.

Dr. Elaine Pierce’s childhood was influenced by her Chinese mother, who was fiercely proud of her heritage and always a little wistful about leaving her native Malaysia after World War 2. At the age of 16, Dr. Pierce was sent to spend the summer studying Chinese in Taiwan, but she proceeded to goof off with the other American teenagers unleashed from parental scrutiny and managed to learn no useful language skills. A key experience during the trip was a visit to the spectacular National Palace Museum, which sparked a lifelong love of Chinese art and culture. After practicing emergency medicine and then primary care medicine for many years, followed by a second career in public health, she had the opportunity to return to her first love through the San Diego Museum of Art’s docent training program, which she completed in 2017. She thinks her mom would approve of her current obsession.

RSVP to Lily Birmingham at for the Zoom meeting information.

Sponsored by the Asian Arts Council.


Featured: Portrait of Qianlong’s Consort and Yongyan as a Child. Attributable to Giuseppe Castiglione, Jean-Denis Attiret, and Wang Youxue, 1762-3. Palace Museum, Beijing.


June 25, 2020
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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