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.
A bird (probably a sparrow) perches among peach blossoms, while singing to welcome the spring.
The tradition of bird and flower painting to which this image belongs dates back to the Tang period (618–907); in the Southern Sung (1127–1279) court it became a dominant mode as emperors themselves took up brushes to produce highly refined, delicate-colored paintings in an intimate format. Throughout their long history, these apparently straightforward and charming paintings conveyed symbolic or allegorical messages for the knowledgeable viewer.
This Early Ming painting executed in the in the style of the Southern Sung court celebrates the dynasty that restored Han Chinese rule after nearly a century of Mongol rule during the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). The blossoming pear tree is a symbol of wise and benevolent administration, while the singing bird symbolizes the loyal scholar-official, overjoyed by the restoration of traditional Chinese government.
A group of travellers moves along a path at the foot of the mountains that grow upward, dominating the majority of the pictoral space. The common technique using small black dots occurs throughout the painting, accenting mountain edges, tree branches and roots. A building can be seen peeking out from behind the mountains in the lower portion of hte painting.
It is common in Chinese ink painting to create works in dialogue with past masters. The dark jagged edges of the pine trees and rounded looming mountaintops recall the style of master painter Guo Xi and his famous work Clearing Autumn Skies over Mountains and Valleys. Active in the Northern Song Period (960–1217), Guo Xi was passionate about the need for painters to be in communion with nature in order to truly represent space and changing phenomena.