Lang Shih-ning is the Chinese name used by Italian, Giuseppe Castiglione. At the age of 19, Castiglione entered the Jesuit order in Italy as a novitiate, and his early training included painting and architecture. He was subsequently sent to China and arrived in1715. His artistic skills came to the attention of the emperor, and he served in the inner court during the K’ang-hsi (1662-1722), Yung-cheng (1723-1735), and Ch’ien-lung (1736-1795) reigns as a painter. He combined his previous training with studies of Chinese painting techniques to create a style fusing the best of both traditions. He excelled at depicting figures, birds-and-flowers, and especially dogs and horses.
In this painting is a depiction of a bird known as a “cho-yueh” perched alone on an outcropping by a magnificent pine, turning its head with wing outstretched to preen its feathers. This bird is native to the regions west of China. The bird in this painting was taken back to court from the region of I-li and presented by the official A-kuei. The imperial poem inscribed on the painting is also found in the Ch’ien-lung emperor’s published collection of poetry. Composed in 1763, we thus know from this poem that Castiglione was 75 at the time painting was done.