CHINA AND JAPAN
Influence of the West on Eastern Gardens
At one point, in the mid-eighteenth century it seemed possible that the art of Le Nôtre might get a foothold in the Far East. Letters came to France from French missionaries in China, saying that the emperor had commissioned the Jesuit Father Benoît to lay out in the French style a portion of his park at the Summer Palace, Yuen-ming-yuen. At the same time, Father Castiglione built the first European houses in the Chinese capital.
The first thing made by Father Benoît was a highly artistic cascade. There were two pyramids of water beside a semicircular place where the battles of fishes, birds, and wild beasts were represented in the mirror of the waters. As a special compliment to the Celestiais, Benoît set up a skilfully-made clock; and the twelve hours of the day were represented in Chinese fashion by twelve animals, each spurting out water for one hour (Fig. 548).
FIG. 548. EUROPEAN GARDEN AT YUEN-MING-YUEN, PEKING
This work of art was erected in the second pavillon à l’italien like a large water- buffet. The writers show great pride in this site and similar ones in the Chinese Versailles.
The emperor liked to adorn gardens and buildings with treasures from Europe, of which he had a great number. He had copper-engravings made of his new grounds, and sent them over to Europe. They could be compared with the boskets of Versailles. They are a mixture of Chinese ideas and exuberant Baroque (Fig. 549), showing a lively fancy among the Jesuits.
FIG. 549. EUROPEAN GARDEN AT YUEN-MINQ-YUBN, PEKING
The Chinese were amazed at the wonderful hydraulic machinery which the foreign missionaries, magician-like, had at their command, and they learned to manage it quickly. But when they had mastered the supposed mysterious arts they lost interest in them. After Benoît’s death the machines were never repaired. The emperor, who was now an old man, seldom came into that part of the park: if those responsible heard that he was coming, men were sent to fill up the basins, so that the waters should play while he was passing by. Soon, however, nothing more was heard of the European works of art, and China was just as far as ever from being affected by the influence of the West.
[See list of Chinese dynasties]