Ancestral portrait, male official
Qing dynasty (1644–1912)
Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper Gift of Otto Au, 1951/2.29
For a viewer of the time, this painting and those like it offered a set of clues about the social identity and position of the person depicted. The topcoat, made from blue-black satin and edged with white fur, was worn by fourth- through ninth-rank civil officials. The type of bird on the coat’s rank badge is unusually difficult to determine since its tail feathers are ambiguous. But paired with details like the hat’s gold finial, this man’s status as a ninth-rank civil official
(the lowest) with a paradise flycatcher rank badge becomes clear. While the ambiguity could be the fault of the painter, some badges were made purposefully ambiguous so that the wearer might be perceived as having a higher rank.
The small, plain, stiffened fur collar indicates the season is winter and helps to date this work to the second half of the nineteenth century, when such collars were fashionable. The type of collar also indicates this is the informal style of dress rather than full court dress, as does the hat, a winter style used in informal settings.