skip to Main Content

Anonymous Chinese 無款中國
(late 19th century)

“Female Ancestor Portrait”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
146.0 x 89.0 cm. (57 1/2 x 35 in.)

Published: Kaikodo Journal XXXVI (Spring 2020), no. 9.

The composition is rigidly symmetrical, save for the slight overlapping of the woman’s hands, with the subject placed in a yoke-backed chair set on a round rug placed in turn on a rectangular carpet. Although the figure is seen in frontal orientation, there is virtually no pictorial recession. Therefore, the lower elements are viewed from almost a bird’s-eye perspective, which allows the various motives and designs to appear with little distortion.

The subject of the portrait, with face produced in a powerful three-dimensional manner, wears a red gauze dragon robe, her hands clasped beneath the voluminous sleeves, the robe covered with a heavily embroidered vest with cloud collar and eight emblems pendant on the hem. Her elaborate crown is decorated with pearl chains embellished with hanging chimes and jeweled butterflies. The chair appears to be black lacquer with mother-of-pearl inlay and with ornate marble insets below the armrests. A green diaper-patterned brocade is draped over the back of the chair while a low foot-stool, matching the chair, is set before the subject.

Most telling is a rank badge with a bird emblem stitched on the vest, suggesting that the subject was the wife of a civil official, perhaps one with a purchased degree yet a degree that elevated the couple above their peers and privileged them to have such a portrait executed in her honor. The lavish display marks the end of a long tradition of such images at the close of the Qing dynasty.




For a complete writeup with illustrated comparative material download the PDF.

Download PDF File
Back To Top