Giuseppe Castiglione was born on July 19, 1688, in the central San Marcellino district of Milan, Italy, the site of a renowned Botteghe degli Stampator painting studio. As a youth, Castiglione learned to paint from Carlo Cornara at the studio, and he also came under the influence of the famous painter Andrea Pozzo, a member of the Society of Jesus at Trento. In 1707, at the age of 19, Castiglione formally entered the Society and traveled to the prosperous city of Genoa for further training. By this time, he had already achieved some repute as a painter and was invited to do wall paintings at Jesuit churches. At the age of 27, he received instructions to go to China, and, on the journey, did wall paintings in Jesuit churches in Coimbra (Portugal) and Macao. Castiglione's style was based on the emphasis on color, perspective, and light found in Italian Renaissance art. In China, where Castiglione went by the Chinese name Lang Shih-ning, he came to the attention of the Chien-lung emperor (r. 1736-1795) and served as an artist for the court. Castiglione eventually became a respected painter and earned the appreciation of the Chien-lung emperor, which was a considerable honor for a foreign artist at the time.
Following the taste and tradition of painting in China, Castiglione was able to forge a new style that combined elements with his Western training in art. His paintings were done with Chinese materials but often incorporate Western techniques of shading and atmospheric perspective. In this long handscroll painting, for example, a hundred horses are shown in a variety of activities. Using perspective to suggest depth and shading for the effect of light, Castiglione has used Chinese materials and Western techniques to impart a sense of realism to this native theme. In addition to the shadows, Castiglione has adapted the traditional texture stroke methods of Chinese painting to give the objects even more substance. The emphasis on washes of color, however, still reveals the focus on native techniques. This painting, done in 1728, represents an early masterpiece in Castiglione's syncretic style of East and West.