Portrait of Mother Mujia

Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, Guangxu reign, ca. 1890
Oil pigment on silk
H x W (painting): 123.4 x 67.9 cm (48 9/16 x 26 3/4 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

carpet, China, Guangxu reign (1875 - 1908), noble, portrait, Pritzlaff collection, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), woman, WWII-era provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable

The inscription proclaims Mujia to be a dame-consort of the first rank. This must have been an honorary title, because the round badge she wears indicates that her husband purchased his rank rather than earned it through normal channels. These round badges were worn briefly at the end of the nineteenth century, the same period when the exaggeratedly wide sleeves of Mujia's robe were popular. Her court clothing and the kingfisher-feather headdress may have been chosen from a pattern book, since ancestor portraits often depict people in costumes or with props they never actually owned. A portrait of her husband is in the Sackler's collection (see S1991.136).

The white soles of Mujia's platform shoes peek out beneath her hem, which is unusual because ancestor portraits always present a figure displaying total decorum: a woman was supposed to hide her feet. After photography became popular, the rule about not showing feet seems to have been relaxed. If a woman sat for a photograph, her shoes might accidentally stick out from under her robe, and the photographer would have been hard put to hide this. Painters can finesse such details, but not photographers. After photography became popular, ancestor portraits inevitably changed.

Published References
  • Jan Stuart. Calling Back the Ancestor's Shadow: Chinese Ritual and Commemorative Portraits. vol. XLIII no. 3. p. 13, fig. 11.
  • Jan Stuart, Evelyn S. Rawski. Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Exh. cat. Washington and Stanford. p. 170, fig. 7.4.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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