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Seated Lady Holding a Fan
Seated Lady Holding a Fan, 18th century
Mang Huli, Chinese (Manchu)
Ink and color on silk; originally mounted as a hanging scroll
5 feet 6 1/2 inches x 43 3/4 inches (168.9 x 111.1 cm)
Gift of Mrs. W. James Anderson, Mrs. Samuel Bell, Jr., Mrs. Richard Drayton, and Charles T. Ludington, Jr., in memory of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Townsend Ludington, 1970
1970-259-2
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About This Painting

This watercolor painting depicts a Chinese lady of the Qing (ching) dynasty. The phoenix designs on her fine silk gown and the four-clawed dragon image on the blue-and-white porcelain stool indicate that she was a highborn person of noble rank. The phoenix was a well-known symbol of the empress, and only nobility were permitted to have depictions of four-clawed dragons on their possessions. Her luxurious surroundings—which include a couch with inset marble panels, an antique table from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), and a tall, lacquered wood stand with inlaid gilt filigree—reflect her wealth and elegant taste. Both dignified and demure, the lady looks at us with a slight smile in a manner appropriate for a woman of her class.

Other motifs in this painting tell us that this woman is well educated and highly cultured. To her right, a citrus fruit known as "Buddha's Hand" scents the room, as do the rose and orchid cuttings in the celadon vase. A round lacquer box decorated with tortoiseshell—which may have once held incense—a gilded incense burner, and a cloisonné vase holding incense utensils are displayed on the wood stand. The neat stack of books, the bamboo design painted on her fan, and the fresh orchid blossom in her hair indicate literary inclinations. For scholars, bamboo was a symbol of virtue and integrity, and the orchid was long admired for its subtle appearance and fragrance. The artist Mang Hu-li has portrayed a woman who embodies the feminine ideals of refinement with modesty and charm with grace.

Portraiture in China

This portrait of a seated lady shows us a highly individualized likeness of the sitter. Every aspect of the painting, including the woman’s facial expression, conveys her character, emotion, and personality. Ancestor portraits are another kind of portrait painting tradition in Chinese art. Confucian teachings dictate the importance of honoring ancestors. After someone's death, the family of the deceased often commissioned an ancestor portrait of their loved one, which was then displayed at a family shrine or an altar within the home. In an ancestor portrait, it is more important to convey the accomplishments and status of the individual than to focus on his or her exact likeness or emotional qualities.

Mandarin in His Study
Mandarin in His Study, 1750-1850
Chinese
Ink and color on silk; originally mounted as a hanging scroll
60 1/16 x 31 1/2 inches (152.6 x 80 cm) Mount: 8 feet 10 5/16 inches x 35 1/16 inches (270 x 89 cm)
Purchased with Museum funds from the Simkhovitch Collection, 1929
1929-40-188
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Mandarin in His Study is a fine example from the Museum's collection of a Qing dynasty ancestor portrait. A mandarin was a highly educated civil official who had passed a series of rigorous examinations to attain his post. Not only was a mandarin knowledgeable in the duties of his office but he was also accomplished in the arts of music, poetry, calligraphy, and painting. In this hanging scroll, a painting of a branch from a pine tree, an evergreen, hangs on the wall behind the scholar, symbolizing his long, productive life. The calligraphy tools and books stacked in the background remind us of his great wisdom. His beard is a sign of old age, a highly revered quality in China. His long, pointed fingernails remind us that that his occupation is intellectual rather than physical, and his elaborate dress identifies his standing as a scholar and government official.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.
 

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