This late Qing portrait depicts an official in his formal court costume.
Formal male (and female) court dress was worn with a piling (wide collar or capelet) over the shoulders. The costume also included a hat with decorations denoting rank and a looped court necklace. Though these necklaces always had the same number of beads (108), those with larger diameters resulted in a longer chain, such as the one worn by the official in this painting. This style was common in the late Qing period. The figure’s blue winter surcoat has an insignia badge with a Mandarin duck surrounded by clouds; this suggests he is a seventh-rank civil official (there were nine ranks in the civil official or wenguan hierarchy in the Qing court). Traditionally, as here, Ming (1368–1644) and Qing dynasty ancestral portrait paintings emphasized verisimilitude in the depiction of faces because they were treated as objects of worship rather than art. The receding ground plane, use of oblique lines in the top section of the tapestry, and three-dimensional presence of the body in this painting, however, suggest there is also a Western influence.
This is a portrait of a Manchu woman in her semiformal costume.
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.