One entitled Haiyantang nanmian shisan, 'The Hall of Sea Brightness viewed from the South, Nr.13'; the other Dashuifa zhengmian shiwu, 'The Great Water Fountains, frontal view, Nr.15'
Six miles north-west of Beijing, on a fresh and shady site, lies the Yuanming Yuan, better known today as the Old Summer Palace, the favourite residence of the emperors of China. The first residence was built here in 1153 by Emperor Wanyen Liang of the Jin Dynasty: the 'Garden of the Golden Waters'. Each dynasty made its contribution towards the embellishment and enlargement of the Summer Palace. the Kangxi Emperor occupied the Changchun Yuan, the 'Palace of Eternal Spring', almost opposite the Red Gate of the present University. His son, later to rule as the Yongzheng Emperor, then a prince, laid out the Yuanming Yuan, the 'Garden of Perfect Clarity', a name which soon came to be applied to the totality of the buildings and gardens. But it was incontestably the Qianlong Emperor who contributed most to the embellishment of these pleasure houses. Close to the Yuanming Yuan he laid out the 'Garden of Luxuriant Spring', so called in memory of the palace where he had spent his youth, and the Wanshou Yuan, the 'Garden of a Myriad Years of Long Life'. Without a doubt, he had long intended to erect here palaces in the European style in imitation of those which he had seen in the engravings brought by the Jesuit missionaries resident at Court. The Emperor himself decided on the position of the future building: the whole of the norther section of the 'Garden of Eternal Spring'. He then instructed Castiglione, his favourite painted, to draw up plans and choose his collaborators. It is interesting to note the role of architect falling to Castiglione, known above all as a painter and draughtsman. To assist them in this work, the missionaries sent to Europe for a certain number of works on architecture, among them Le premier volume des plus excellents bâtiments de France by Androuet du Cerceau, three versions (Latin, French and Italian) of Vitruvius' De Architectura and several Italian books.
The designs submitted to the Emperor by Castiglione were a fascinateing kind of Baroque. Architectural motifs, colonnades and volutes were combined together with an exuberance reminiscent of the style of Borromini. Had not Qianlong called for palaces 'in the manner of the European barbarians' in the midst of a multitude of jets of water, cascades and fountains?
Castiglione placed the hydraulic aspect of the work in the hands of a French Jesuit, Father Michel Benoist, who had been sent from France to Beijing in 1744. Suspending his astronomical labours until the late 1750's, Benoist was assigned responsibility for designing the hydraulic apparatus to run a spectacular 'water-garden' fountain complex in an area of the Yuanming Yuan allocated by Qianlong.
Of all the magnificent edifices of his exclusive leisure palace, what most enchanted the Emperor was the complex of fountains designed by Father Benoist. From his window, seated on his throne and surrounded by his concubines, he could contemplate the jets of water spat out by bronze monkeys and wild geese 'and the kind of war which the fish, the birds and the animals of all kinds in the pool, on its banks and up on the rocks are supposed to be waging'.
The Bibliothéque Nationale de Paris holds a set of twenty engravings of the European palaces, commissioned by the Emperor from the Jesuits and finally printed in 1783, showing various aspects of these remarkable buildings and magnificent water devices.