European Missionaries and Oil Painting History in China

According to the history, Chinese ever used oil to paint as early as two thousand years ago, yet this does not suffice to be called as oil painting. The real oil painting in the Chinese history began in 1581, when a western missionary carried portraits of the Lord and the Virgin Mary to China.

At the end of the 15th century, explorers from Europe traveled across the ocean in the hope of making a fortune in the mysterious East, while missionaries with the same sporting blood brought Catholicism to China. It was in Chinese Ming Dynasty that oil paintings were introduced to China when the cultural and economic exchanges between the East and the West began, accompanied with the import of western religion.

European missionaries presented Chinese high officials and emperors with papistical oil paintings out of religious purposes. Interestingly, the Chinese paid more attention to the oil paintings per se than the Catholicism in them. For them, the oil painting from the West was something unfamiliar and novel, different from the traditional Chinese landscape painting and the flower-bird painting. Chinese imperial painters reproduced the oil paintings with the help of the missionaries. The Chinese emperor was so impressed that he decided to sponsor the development of the western art of painting in China. As part of the plan, some painters and missionaries stayed in the imperial palace to serve as imperial painters, teaching the western painting skills and in the meantime, learning Chinese painting techniques.


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