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The Yongzheng Emperor Reading a Book (Yongzheng di dushu xiang)
Anonymous court artist, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, h: 171.3 cm, w: 156.5 cm

The three consecutive emperors, who created the flourishing age of the Qing dynasty had admirable political achievements partly because they received fine education from childhood. In order to ensure good education for his sons, a Qing emperor chose literarily knowledgeable officials as tutors, and he often personally supervised and encouraged them. The princes' subjects included Manchu, Chinese, and Mongolian languages, as well as literature, marksmanship, and equestrian skills. An ideal educational environment and the princes' diligence contributed to their high literary taste.   
  The Yongzheng Emperor attached great importance to reading literary masterpieces and, after ascending the throne, never stopped studying. He was thoroughly familiar with historical and Confucian classics, applied his ancestors' experience to perfect his governing methods, and created his own manner of leading officials. His diligence dispelled the evils in the administrative system and laid a solid foundation for the more flourishing period of the Qianlong reign (1736-1795). Thus, all these achievements were closely bound up with his hard study.   
  This painting depicts the emperor sitting cross-legged on a cushion atop what is presumably a wooden-fronted kang. The portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor holding a Chinese book is more of a trope than a personal reflection. Beginning with the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) and continuing throughout the Qing, most of the Manchu emperors had themselves portrayed in an elegantly appointed study or writing to display their mastery of the Chinese literary tradition.   
  Stylistically the painting follows a syncretic Sino-European mode. Western influence is most apparent in the definition of architectural space depicted by the lines and shading indicating the intersections between the side and back walls and the ceiling. The setting of this portrait and the dragon robe worn by the emperor are closely related to similar depictions of the Kangxi, Qianlong, and Jiajing (r. 1796-1820) Emperors presented in their studies as scholars.
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