Qianlong Emperor 乾隆大帝
The Qianlong Emperor (25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799) was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. As a capable and cultured ruler who inherited a thriving empire, during his long reign the Qing Empire reached the zenith of power and prosperity, boasting a large multi-ethnic population and a vibrant economy.
As a military leader, he vigorously led several military campaigns expanding the dynastic territory to the largest extent by conquering and sometimes destroying Central Asian kingdoms. However his ascension to power turned around in his late years, with enduring power came the corruption that was so detrimental to the Chinese dynasties: the Qing empire began to decline with unrestricted corruption in his later days and the Qing began to stagnate following his death.
Detail of 18th century portrait of young Qianlong Emperor.
Sensual, witty, and confident, the young Qianlong Emperor had the reputation as a smart aleck and also a gifted student. Hongli- the future Qianlong Emperor was adored both by his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor and his father, the Yongzheng Emperor. As a teenager, Hongli was capable in martial arts and possessed literary ability. After Hongli ascended the throne he adopted the era name "Qianlong", which means "Lasting Eminence".
Qianlong Emperor in advanced age
A British valet who accompanied his diplomat master to the Qing court in 1793 described the emperor: "The Emperor is about five feet ten inches in height, and of a slender but elegant form; his complexion is comparatively fair, though his eyes are dark; his nose is rather aquiline, and the whole of his countenance presents a perfect regularity of feature, which, by no means, announce the great age he is said to have attained; His person is attracting, and his deportment accompanied by an affability, which, without lessening the dignity of the prince, evinces the amiable character of the man. His dress consisted of a loose robe of yellow silk, a cap of black velvet with a red ball on the top, and adorned with a peacock's feather, which is the peculiar distinction of mandarins of the first class. He wore silk boots embroidered with gold, and a sash of blue girded his waist.
The extremely detailed promo pictures from above are from the recent harem costume drama: "Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace" 如懿传. I have only followed the story in broad strokes mainly because of its pacing issues but I do love the commitment the series had for good costumes. I have small nitpicks here and there of course but overall I am rather impressed that a production of this caliber could be seen in this decade.
Also on a related note, for those who are interested in browsing through a gallery of Qianlong Emperor's armor, please check it out here.
Equestrian portrait of Qianlong Emperor by the imperial court painter/ Jesuit missionary Giuseppe Castiglione. The Qing Emperors especially prized the painting abilities of the western missionaries and relied on them to develop a new style that incorporated both traditional Chinese styles as well as the more opaque western styles. Because having shadows on the face usually symbolized villainy or forebode of bad luck, Qianlong generally instructed Castiglione to draw his face with a neutral flat lighting that left no shadows.
Qianlong Emperor's brigandine armor, or dingjia (Chinese: 釘甲; Pinyin: Dīng jiǎ). It consisted of rectangular plates of metal, riveted between the fabric layers with the securing rivet heads visible on the outside. The outer layer consisted of comfortable silk and cotton paddings and elaborate thread work. Dinjia were frequently favoured by officers for its rich, expensive look and comfortable protection. However by the 19th century such armors had became obsolete. Officials such as military governors and magistrates still wore them for show but they often took out the iron plates within and merely used it as a military uniform.
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The Qianlong Emperor as Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. The emperor has had himself portrayed in the center of a thangka, a traditional Tibetan-style religious painting, but he called upon the Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione, who was a Jesuit missionary serving at the Chinese court, to paint his face and the lotus that surrounded him.
By having himself depicted as the enlightened being Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, the Qianlong emperor positioned himself squarely in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. The landscape surrounding him is filled with auspicious clouds and a representation of the five-peaked, Wutaishan sacred mountain in China. The inscription on the painting proclaims Manjusri to be the ruler of the Buddhist faith.