The present miniature portrait of a Chinese lady in a blue robe ( Gouache, c. 1850 ) is striking for the manner in which a typical Chinese beauty has been represented. While few female subjects in the Chinese painting repertoire of the Qing dynasty can be found, the present piece belongs to a small group of paintings , all painted in the style of Giuseppe Castiglione: A Jesuit Painter at the Court of the Chinese Emperors.
The lady is elegantly dressed in a sumptuously embroidered silk robe and adorned with precious jade and gold jewellery, all of which complement and accentuate her beauty. However, what is most striking is her direct gaze at the viewer which evokes a sense of wealth and power. Jesuit-style influence in the paintings is apparent in the careful shading of the women's faces. The artist has made considerable use of highlights to sculpt the nose and cheeks. This sharply differs from that seen on works painted in the traditional Chinese method; for example see the face of Qianlong's concubine on a court painting titled Portraits of Emperor Qianlong and His Concubine in Ancient Costume published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 45. The impact of Western figurative painting is further evident from the striking use of light and shadow on the folds of the robe, and in the informality of their poses. This miniature portrait boast a certain element of foreign exoticism which was the fashion of the day and would have spoken well of the ladie´s position in society. The majority of Qing portraits were painted in workshops known as maitaigong (purchased visage) which implies the commercial nature of their production. Several artists collaborated within the workshop to produce a portrait between them. First the body was painted and a blank space left for the head which was then filled in by another artist. A third artist may have been involved in drawing the hands, props and finishing the background. The artist specializing in faces was inevitably the master in the workshop. Maitaigong produced a broad range of portraits which included images of living people, historical figures and ancestors. The tradition of painting an idealized, alluring beauty was already established in the early Qing; for example see the paintingBeauty Holding an Orchid in the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, illustrated in Jan Stuart and Evelyn S. Rawski,Worshipping the Ancestors, Washington D.C. , 2001, pl. 4.2 While an English label on the Sackler painting identifies the sitter as Lady Liu, Yongzheng Emperor's concubine, according to the authors this should not be given much weight. The woman is shown wearing a Han Chinese dress and is represented as a generic 'beauty' holding an orchid flower which she is about to pin in her hair. Notes on the work suggest that she 'advertises her sexual allure and her direct eye contact with the viewer seems intended to elicit male fantasies and demonstrates the degree to which frontal portraiture had become normative.' (Ibid., p. 97) It is further suggested that the Sackler portrait, which is attributed to the mid-18th to 19th century, is similar to a number of paintings of women that were created for the pleasure of the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors and may have a palace provenance.
The present miniature portrait is enclosed in an superbly carved Ebony wood frame ( the portrait protected by a thin glass pane ). To the back there is an English lable of the well known and renowed gallery of Martyn Gregory in London.
Size: The portrait : 10x7 cm. The Ebony frame : 24x20,6. Condition : Perfect.