Imperial Illusions Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces

Kristina Kleutghen

In the Forbidden City and other palaces around Beijing, Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1795) surrounded himself with monumental paintings of architecture, gardens, people, and faraway places. The best artists of the imperial painting academy, including a number of European missionary painters, used Western perspectival illusionism to transform walls and ceilings with visually striking images that were also deeply meaningful to Qianlong. These unprecedented works not only offer new insights into late imperial China's most influential emperor, but also reflect one way in which Chinese art integrated and domesticated foreign ideas.

In Imperial Illusions, Kristina Kleutghen examines all known surviving examples of the Qing court phenomenon of "scenic illusion paintings" (tongjinghua), which today remain inaccessible inside the Forbidden City. Produced at the height of early modern cultural exchange between China and Europe, these works have received little scholarly attention. Richly illustrated, Imperial Illusions offers the first comprehensive investigation of the aesthetic, cultural, perceptual, and political importance of these illusionistic paintings essential to Qianlong's world.

Kleutghen cover


  • $70.00 cloth, 9780295994109
  • $70.00 ebook, 9780295805528
  • 384 pages
  • 112 color illus., 7 x 10 in.

Content Excerpt

Table of Contents

About the Media


Kleutghen I.6 Garden Map

Original locations of all known extant scenic illusions or visual evidence for lost paintings originally in the Perfect Brightness and Eternal Spring Gardens. Diagrams by Barry Levely.

about the author

Kristina Kleutghen is an assistant professor of art history and archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her Ph.D. in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University in 2010.

Focusing on early modern, modern, and contemporary Chinese art, her research investigates Sino-foreign interaction, the imperial court, optical devices, and connections to science and mathematics. Her research has been supported by the Blakemore Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Getty Research Institute.

Currently in progress, her second monograph project, Lens onto the World: Optical Devices, Art, Vision, and Visuality in China, examines the effects of domestically produced optical devices and art on vision, society, and science from the sixteenth through early twentieth centuries. Looking toward Japan as much as toward Europe, Lens onto the World seeks not only to recover the forgotten importance and ubiquity of optical devices in late imperial China, but also to demonstrate their consistent presence in between the history of art and the history of science.