The Album of Immortal Blossoms in an Everlasting Spring by Giuseppe Castiglione
acrylic on canvas
259 x 194 cm
The Album of Immortal Blossoms in an Everlasting Spring by Giuseppe Castiglione (2012) is a large painting almost three metres high. Su takes the floral imagery of the Jesuit court painter and layers it with the unmistakeable Vanitas object of a skull, thereby conflating the sheer beauty of his massed flowers with connotations of the inevitable death and decay of the human body, and perhaps also suggesting the inevitable decline of imperial power. The eye sockets are implied by the dark head of a bird, with its beady eye, and by the yellow centre of a daisy, the teeth by a string of purple petals. The ornate profusion of bright green leaves, and the dominant pinks, reds and yellows of the painted blooms, cannot disguise the message of mortality. A pair of birds directly appropriated from an album leaf by Castiglione sit on a branch above the grinning teeth, an inclusion that references the surreal portraits of Arcimboldo (another court painter, to the Hapsburgs), which are assembled from painted fruit and vegetables. Su is fascinated by the intersection of the oriental and the occidental, and the journey of images from the refined and high-status art forms of the Qing court to mass-produced textiles, wallpaper and graphics today.