Jiao Bingzhen, a court painter largely active during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, was the senior artist on this fan. Jiao painted the Manchu horse trainer and the setting into which the horse was inserted by Giuseppe Castiglione. Each artist was bonded to his own artistic tradition, while flexibly and harmoniously accommodating the others’ style.
Jiao’s brushwork displays rigor and control, particularly in the twisting and turning trunk of the willow. The treatment of the figure and his clothes is an exercise in linearity. The horse trainer’s gesture and posture closely adhere to the known repertoire of the Chinese figural tradition, but the specificity supplies a sense of documentary reportage of life on the frontier. His shaved forehead and white temples identify him as a Manchu. The thick fabric of his garments was defined in a different sort of brush line than Jiao typically used for Chinese scholars or travelers.
Jesuit priest Castiglione, a newcomer to China at the time this was painted, brought a sense of Western realism to the horse. Poised at a slight angle, the horse is alert, its eye gleaming. Its contours suggest the bulk of its anatomy with skilled but not overpowering modelling, and careful and subtly wrought attention to detail, such as fluttering strand of mane.
Because of his ability to combine traditional Chinese painting techniques with Western methods of perspective and chiaroscuro, Castiglione went on to be the most favored and honored of the missionary artists who served the early Qing emperors. Throughout his career, in addition to imperial demands for portraits and records of court events, Castiglione continued to paint favored imperial horses. These animal subjects reflect the desire of Kangxi and his successors to celebrate their nomadic origins and to keep alive the martial prowess of the Manchu warriors in their new and sedentary world of conquered China.