DESCRIPTION: Nearly life-sized and in the traditional frontal pose, this painting on rice paper depicts a Chinese Qing official (mandarin) and his wife seated on elaborately carved chairs in semiformal gowns. The woman's bright red robe has an embroidered insignia that proclaims the couple's rank and status. Her feet and hands are hidden and she wears an elaborate headdress of gold and pearls. Wearing an eggplant colored overcoat, the husband sits in his official hat while stroking his beard with long fingernails. The detail is quite excellent on their faces and garments. On a table between the couple is a plaque indicating the ancestral lineage and position of the persons depicted. We believe this painting dates to the 19th century, possibly earlier, and has been skillfully remounted. It has a few minor stains and retouched areas, but the colors are quite vibrant and overall it provides a striking appearance. DIMENSIONS: Painting is 34" wide (86.4 cm) x 52 1/2" high (1.33 m); scroll is 40" wide (1.02 m) x 83 1/2" high (2.12 m).
ABOUT ANCESTOR PORTRAITS: The Chinese have long had a profound connection to their ancestors. They believe that death doesn't end a person’s relationship with the living, and that, if properly worshipped in private family rituals, the spirits of their ancestors will bring them health, long life, prosperity and children. In Imperial China, filial sons, as part of their family duty to care for the spirits of their ancestors, paid homage to them in ritual ceremonies, placing food offerings before the portraits of their forebears. Chinese commemorative portraits were painted specifically for use in ancestor worship. Besides being compelling art, the paintings reveal much about Chinese social and cultural history. With the development of photography in the 19th century, the painting of ancestor portraits began to wane.