Portrait of Lady Guan

Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, Kangxi reign or later, mid 17th-early 18th century
Ink and color on silk
H x W (painting): 211.7 x 113.8 cm (83 3/8 x 44 13/16 in) H x W (overall): 343 x 145 cm (135 1/16 x 57 1/16 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

aristocracy, carpet, chair, China, portrait, Pritzlaff collection, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), woman, WWII-era provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable

Lady Guan wears full court dress, and her three pairs of pierced earrings indicate that she was almost certainly a high-ranking bannerwoman, probably a Manchu. (Chinese women generally wore a single pair of earrings.) This portrait forms a pair with that of her husband (see S1991.120).

Lady Guan's masklike face seems to contradict the goal of realism in ancestor portraits. According to rules of Confucian conduct, men were not allowed to see women unrelated to them. This sometimes forced professional artists, who were always male, to idealize a woman's face. Descendants might describe her facial features to the painter, hoping for some personal likeness, such as the sharp chin and narrow eyes of Lady Guan. Here, she fingers her court necklace with her right hand and holds a small Buddhist rosary in her left hand, which signifies her religious conviction. Expressions of personal character are unusual in ancestor portraits.

The superscription above the portrait is dated 1716 and includes information about the career of Lady Guan's husband as well as her own promotion to the title of dame-consort of the first rank. Both painting and inscription may be later copies.

Published References
  • Jan Stuart, Evelyn S. Rawski. Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Exh. cat. Washington and Stanford. p. 53, fig. 2.1.
  • Nicholas Standaert. The Interweaving of Rituals: Funerals in the Cultural Exchange Between China and Europe. Seattle. p. 132.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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