Jade Belt Bridge
22 cm x 29 cm
The famous Jade Belt Bridge was built in the 1750s during the Qianlong Emperor’s dramatic expansion of the Yuanmingyuan’s grounds. In Thomas Child’s masterly photograph, the arch of the bridge stands silhouetted against a clear white sky, as three dark figures ascend upwards, seemingly to the heavens. The underside of one half of the bridge appears in inky shadow, joining its mirror reflection to create a blackened crescent moon.
In Child’s great photographic image the sky and surface of the water under the arch of the bridge render as pure white; the land dissolving into bands of horizontal lines like brush strokes, and culminating in the distant shore, suffused with mist. Sky, mist, and water are shown the same way, as flat, unpigmented planes. The emptiness of space and the metaphorical relationship between sky, mist and water so magically captured in this photograph reflects an enduring focus of important traditions of revered Chinese literati painting.