Ancestral Portrait: Female in Manchu Court Costume

Accession Number

Ancestral Portrait: Female in Manchu Court Costume


Artist Nationality
Chinese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1875-1920

Medium & Support
ink, color and gold on paper

46 1/8 in x 22 3/16 in (117.1 cm x 56.3 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Richard Edwards in honor of Ellen Johnston Laing

Label copy
Ancestral portrait, female in court attire
Qing dynasty (1644–1912)
Hanging scroll, ink, color, and gold on paper
Gift of Richard Edwards in honor of Ellen Johnston Laing, 2002/1.218.2

The woman in this hanging scroll is wearing clothing typical
of ethnic Han Chinese women during the Qing dynasty. Her
quasi-official formal dress for ceremonial occasions includes
a robe with dragon motifs (mang ao), a vest (xia pei), a skirt,
and a coronet. The vest she wears over her dragon robe bears
a badge depicting a flycatcher, the mark of her husband’s
status as a ninth-rank civil official.
This portrait combines traditional techniques with
technological innovations, exemplifying some of the changes
occurring in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. The head was printed, likely with a halftone
process, resulting in photorealistic features with the telltale
grain of a printed image. It was then pasted onto the paper
of the hanging scroll and the edges burnished to create a
subtle effect before the coronet and earrings were painted in
colored pigment.

Subject matter
Though the woman in this painting wears a Manchu court costume, she is likely not of Manchu descent since she lacks the three earrings worn in each ear by Manchu women. Her costume is semiformal (jifu), meaning it is without necklaces, piling, surcoat, and court hat. The long blue vest that she wears over? the robe has a square badge depicting a flycatcher; this signifies that her husband is a ninth-rank civil official. It is not known whether the red robe with golden dragons was common among the wives of lower ranking officials. The portrait is painted on paper rather than the silk more commonly used in ancestral portraits; it is also smaller.than typical Qing court portraits. The carefully rendering of shadows and volume in the face may reflect the influence of the technology of photography in the late Qing court.

Physical Description
This is a portrait of a Manchu woman in her semiformal costume.

The form and color of her dragon robe references the Ming dynasty, a reference to Han Chinese roots. Generally, formal attire like this was worn by wives of high-ranking officials or Chinese noblemen, but lower-ranking officials’ wives also wore such clothing as part of their bridal dress. Though it is difficult or impossible to know for certain, because of the low rank of her husband yet the highly formal nature of her clothing, this portrait could be depicting a woman in her bridal attire.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
hanging scroll

Additional Object Classification(s)

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
costume (mode of fashion)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted