18 Amazing Paintings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368–1912) - Faces of China

Chinese portrait painting exhibition unveiled in Berlin

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Portrait of Yang Woxing
Unidentified Painter, Portrait of Yang Woxing, 佚名 楊我行神像, 16th–17th cent, Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, © Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, The George Crofts Collection, 921.1.149, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

"Faces of China, Portrait Painting of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912)" is Europe's first-ever grand exhibition explicitly dedicated to Chinese portrait paintings.

A selection of more than 100 paintings from the collections of the Palace Museum Beijing and the Royal Ontario Museum Toronto, most of which have never been shown in Europe, spans a period of more than 500 years.

The event was unveiled in Berlin in the evening of Wednesday, the day China and Germany celebrated the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

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Portrait of the Mongolian prince Dawaci
Jean-Denis Attiret (attributed),
Portrait of the Mongolian prince Dawaci (?),
No. 4 of the series on the Dorbed princes, ca. 1755, Oil on paper, Ethnologisches Museum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, I D 22242, © Ethnologisches Museum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Waltraut Schneider-Schütz

The focus is on the unique portraits of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), including images of members of the imperial court, ancestors, military figures, and informal portraits of artists and famous women.

Male Ancestor Portrait
Unidentified Painter, Male Ancestor
Portrait,
佚名 祖先像,
Qing dynasty, 18th cent., Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, The George Crofts Collection, 922.20.248, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

Portrait painting has a 2000-year-old tradition in China. Beginning in the middle of 16th century, the late Ming Dynasty brought with it an economic boom and great intellectual openness that spurred a significant moment of florescence.

Portrait of Yang Maolin
Unidentified Painter, Portrait of Yang Maolin,
佚名 楊茂林神像,
Ming dynasty, 16th – early 17th cent.,
Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk,
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, The George
Crofts Collection, 921.1.150, Courtesy
of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM,
Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

It was in this period that Italian Jesuit painters visited the country, such as Matteo Ricci, who brought new techniques of European portrait painting with him in 1583.

Portrait of Yang Woxing
Unidentified Painter, Portrait of Yang Woxing,
佚名 楊我行神像,
16th–17th cent,
Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk,
© Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, The George Crofts
Collection, 921.1.149, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

After the Manchu people conquered China in 1644 and established the Qing Dynasty, the imperial court in Beijing was host to a lively cultural exchange between China and Europe. This is particularly well reflected in the portrait paintings.

Portrait of Dowager Empress Xiaozhuangwen in Informal Clothing
Unidentified Court Painter,
Portrait of Dowager Empress Xiaozhuangwen
in Informal Clothing (Frontal Half-Portrait), 佚
名 孝莊文皇后半身便装像, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662–1722), Album leaf, ink and colours on paper, The Palace Museum, Beijing, GU 6381, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu Ningchuan

The Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione (Chinese name: Lang Shining; Milan 1688– Beijing 1766) is a key figure of this period.

Portrait of Lady Li
Unidentified Painter, Portrait of Lady Li (Lu
Xifu’s Wife), 佚 名 李夫人像
(陸禧甫夫人), Qing dynasty, Guangxu period, 1876, Hanging scroll, ink and colour on paper, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 976.46.2, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Foto: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

Chinese portrait painting is characterized by two traditions of representation: images of ancestors and images of living figures.

Portrait of a Military Officer and His Wife
Unidentified Painter, Portrait of a Military
Officer and His Wife, 佚名 夫婦像, Qing dynasty, 18th–19th cent., Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, The George Crofts Collection, 921.1.154, Courtesy of the
Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

Ancestor portraits were created to honor deceased family members, who were venerated as part of religious observance within the family. Most were painted by professional but anonymous artists and are unsigned.

Portrait of the Tianqi Emperor
Unidentified Court Painter,
Portrait of the Tianqi Emperor (Xizong, Zhu
Youjiao) in Court Dress , 佚名 明熹宗朱由校朝服像, Ming dynasty, Tianqi period (1621–1627), Hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper , The Palace Museum, Beijing, GU 6209, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu Ningchuan

On the other hand, there are portraits signed by often famous artists depicting well-known figures, such as officials, artists, poets, or those in the military, along with ordinary citizens shown in both single and group family portraits.

Portrait of Gai Qi
Yutang, Curing Vulgarity (Portrait of Gai Qi), 玉堂 醫俗圖 (改琦圖像), Qing dynasty, 18th –19th cent., Hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper, The
Palace Museum, Beijing, XIN 147371, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu
Ningchuan

In exhibitions on Chinese portrait painting to date, only one of these traditions of representation has always been the central theme.

Father and Son Attending an Imperial Audience
Wu Zhuo, Father and Son Attending an Imperial Audience, 吳焯 父子趨直圖, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 1790, Handscroll, ink and colours on paper, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, acquisition made possible through the Louise Hawley Stone Charitable Trust, 2005.33.1, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO

However, Faces of China is deliberately dedicated to both of these two traditions, as developments in one always informed developments in the other.

Official Career of Xu Xianqing
Yu Shi and Wu Yue, Official Career of Xu Xianqing, 余士 吳鉞 徐顯卿宦蹟圖, Ming dynasty, Wanli period (1573–1620), 1588, Album of 26 leaves, ink and colours on silk, The Palace Museum, Beijing,
XIN 77917, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu Ningchuan

While the upper exhibition hall is dedicated to portraits of princely figures, officials, and artists, the focus in the galleries on the lower exhibition hall is on private individuals, families, and ancestral portraits.

Official Career of Xu Xianqing
Yu Shi and Wu Yue, Official Career of Xu Xianqing, 余士 吳鉞 徐顯卿宦蹟圖,
Ming dynasty, Wanli period (1573–1620), 1588, Album of 26 leaves, ink and colours on silk, The Palace Museum, Beijing,
XIN 77917, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu Ningchuan

The works are placed in carefully chosen relationships in light of their original social and religious contexts, as well as their circumstances of production.

Ren Xiong SelfPortrait
Ren Xiong (1823–1857), SelfPortrait, 任熊 自畫像, Qing dynasty, Xianfeng period (1851–1861), ca.1856, Hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper, The
Palace Museum, Beijing, XIN 146208, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu Ningchuan

Thus, large-scale imperial portraits are surrounded by imperial silk garments once worn in the Palace—both groups of objects are on loan from the Palace Museum Beijing.

Portrait of Cao Zhenxiu
Zhou Li/Cao Zhenxiu,
Portrait of Cao Zhenxiu, 周笠 曹貞秀像, Qing dynasty,
Qianlong period (1736–1795), Hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper, The Palace Museum, Beijing, XIN 147377, © The Palace Museum, Photo Credit: Yu Ningchuan

The ancestor portraits—loans from the Royal Ontario Museum Toronto—are placed alongside an altar table with a censer, candlesticks, and flower vases, intended for honoring deceased relatives. Further objects on display come from the extensive Chinese collections of the Staatliche Museen’s own Ethnologisches Museum and Museum für Asiatische Kunst.

Ancestor Portrait of Ding family
Unidentified Painter,
Small-size
Ancestor Portrait of Ding family, 19th cent., Ink and
colour on paper, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. Gift of Mrs. Sigmund Samuel, 950.100.483, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO
Ancestor Portrait of Ding family
Unidentified Painter,
Small-size
Ancestor Portrait of Ding family,
19th cent., Ink and colour on paper,
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. Gift of Mrs. Sigmund Samuel, 950.100.482 ,
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO
Female Ancestor Portrait
Unidentified Painter,
Female Ancestor Portrait, 佚名 祖先像, Qing dynasty,
19th cent.,
Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, The George Crofts Collection, 921.1.142, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM, Photo Credit: Brian Boyle, MPA, FPPO
Multi-Generation Ancestor Group Portrait
Unidentified Painter,
Multi-Generation Ancestor Group Portrait,
Qing dynasty, 19th
cent., Hanging scroll, ink and mineral colours on silk, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln, A 93, 18, © Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Sabrina Walz, rba_d012733

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