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A Qing Dynasty Chinese ancestral portrait

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All Items: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Chinese: Paintings: Pre 1900: item # 1099206

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Andy Yoon Sculpture Gallery
New Zealand

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A Qing Dynasty Chinese ancestral portrait
A Qing Dynasty Chinese ancestral portrait depicting a mandarin's wife of 6th rank on paper; size: 140 cm x 70 cm for the painted area; 167 cm x 76 cm including the margin. The details of her robe are stunning to say the least....Family members commissioned most ancestor portraits. They were painted in workshops as the result of collaboration among several artists, few of whom ever signed their names. Workshop organization was highly specialized, and tasks were divided according to skill. The newest, least-skilled artisans might paint only the ancestor’s hat or shoes, while master artists painted faces. Faces were the most important part of the portrait, because they needed to be realistic and individualized; in contrast, the body and its clothing were used to describe social status and did not need to be personalized. To simplify production, some artists used stencils to draw the bodies and the chairs. Other artists used grids to create the proper proportions for bodies. They could draw a grid in charcoal, which would be erased when painting. Painting faces required the most skill—in painting just the eyes and eyebrow hairs, artists might use brushes of six different sizes. Painting accurate faces was important, which created a problem if the subject of the portrait was already dead. The artist might bring a sketchbook of faces for clients to look over. The family would then select features based on the sketches—for example, “ears like those on sketch 2 and a nose like that on sketch 5.” Other times, artists would study the features of living relatives and draw the ancestor portrait based on common features. If necessary, the artist would view the corpse—but only if the deceased was male, since ideas about virtue declared that women should not be seen by outsiders.

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