Ancestral Portrait: Female in Manchu Court CostumeArtist(s)ChineseArtist NationalityChinese (culture or style)Object Creation Datecirca 1875-1920Medium & Supportink, color and gold on paperDimensions
46 1/8 in x 22 3/16 in (117.1 cm x 56.3 cm)Credit LineGift of Richard Edwards in honor of Ellen Johnston LaingLabel 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.
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 Painting Primary Object Typehanging scrollAdditional Object Classification(s)PaintingCollection AreaAsianRights
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costume (mode of fashion)