Portrait of the Seventh Prince Yi

Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, Xuantong reign, 1911
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 184 x 120 cm (72 7/16 x 47 1/4 in) H x W (overall): 249 x 164 cm (98 1/16 x 64 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program and partial gift of Richard G. Pritzlaff
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

China, man, portrait, prince, Pritzlaff collection, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), WWII-era provenance, Xuantong reign (1909 - 1912)
Provenance information is currently unavailable

This portrait is perplexing. Its label identifies the figure as the seventh Prince Yi and indicates that he received his title and imperial fief posthumously. By most calculations, however, the seventh Prince Yi was named Zaidun (1827-1890), and he received the title Prince Yi during his lifetime. Whatever the sitter's identity, the cadaverous treatment of the face is unlike anything seen in other portraits. One explanation is that the portrait was painted from a posthumous photograph, which was a short-lived practice in the East and West. Families commissioned photographers to take keepsake pictures of a recently deceased loved one.

In traditional China, some ancestor portraits were painted after an artist was invited to see the corpse. The painter always enlivened the face with lifelike colors. The deathly pallor seen here is inexplicable, although it does serve as a reminder that once a portrait is removed from its original context, its unique history may be lost. This portrait is one in a set with S1991.84 and S1991.102.

Published References
  • Jan Stuart. Calling Back the Ancestor's Shadow: Chinese Ritual and Commemorative Portraits. vol. XLIII no. 3. p. 15, fig. 14 a-b.
  • Original Intentions: Essays on Production, Reproduction, and Interpretation in the Arts of China. p. 26.
  • Original Intentions, Essays on Production, Reproduction, and Interpretation in the Arts of China. p. 27.
  • Jan Stuart, Evelyn S. Rawski. Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Exh. cat. Washington and Stanford. p. 103, fig. 4.7.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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