There was a thriving market for Chinese or Chinese-styled goods in 18th-century Britain. Imports of expensive porcelain, silks, wallpaper and lacquerware for the upper classes stimulated the trend, and demand for these fashionable goods grew rapidly, reaching every level of society. Thomas Bowles, a London printmaker with an eye on contemporary fashions, delivered a desirable commodity with this engraving, which is part of a series entitled The Emperor of China’s Palace at Pekin, and his principal Gardens.
Published in 1753, the views depict opulent imperial palaces and landscaped gardens in China, and are based on engravings by Matteo Ripa, an Italian missionary priest working for Emperor Kangxi between 1711 and 1723. Ripa is known for having introduced to China the technique of copperplate engraving for pictorial representations and maps.
This plate depicts the Emperor’s summer palace at Jehol (Chengde), while others show gardens, lakes, temples and pleasure houses at the palace in in Peking (Beijing).
Bowles adapted Ripa’s views for a target audience, none or at least very few of whom knew the ‘real’ China. These are idealised visions of ‘Cathay’, the China of fancy, produced to decorate walls and to demonstrate a buyer’s taste in current fashions.