Despite their compelling presence and often exquisite quality, Chinese ancestor portraits have never been studied as a genre. This illustrated book is the first to explore in depth the artistic, historical, and religious significance of these remarkable paintings and to place them in context with other types of commemorative portraiture.
Since the sixteenth century, portraits were commissioned in China in great number and variety. Depictions of individuals range from formal, iconic poses to the very casual and offer fascinating glimpses of Chinese life and culture. The riveting, realistic ancestor portraits - supremely powerful likenesses - were important objects of veneration, and the practice of making memorial portraits continued into the twentieth century, when paintings were gradually replaced by photographs.
Until recently, these often lavish, full-length portraits of seated men and women, which came into vogue in the late-Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911), languished in relative obscurity, hidden from the view of non-family members and largely ignored by connoisseurs of Chinese art. Here, the authors explore the works in depth, present a fascinating study of the Qing imperial court, provide biographies of sitters from the military and social elite, and discuss the magnificent furniture and costumes that often surround the subjects. They also consider the impact of photography.
The book focuses on the superb collection of Ming and Qing portraits in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian institution, Washington, D.C., with works recently restored to their original brilliance by the museum's conservators. This group of paintings was originally assembled in the late 1930s and 1940s by Richard G. Pritzlaff, a New Mexican rancher, who obtained the portraits from a Chinese dealer known for his connections with nobles selling their family heirlooms.
Worshiping the Ancestors appeals to connoisseurs of Chinese art and to all those interested in social history, portraiture, and devotional art.