|My godmother about the time of her 11th birthday|
|Walter's grandmother at 16 or 17.|
Photos like this one were probably sent "home" to relatives in her native Sweden.
Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court is currently on display at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. The small exhibit includes 16, almost-life-size paintings of royalty, both men and women, from the Qing Dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty marks Manchu rule of China from 1644 until the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 and the founding of the Republic of China. The Manchu people were considered foreigners, even invaders, in China proper when they consolidated northeastern tribes and overthrew Ming leaders. Once firmly established (in about 1660), Qing rulers were incredible diplomats. They gained great popularity by adopting existing Han Chinese culture and court customs and also fostering traditions of minority populations like themselves. By the 18th century, the Manchus had built the largest empire… physically, ethnically and religiously… in Chinese history.
|Portrait of Imperial Bodyguard Zhanyinbao, about 1760, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Early multiculturalism: traditional Tibetan thangka|
with Chinese Qianlong Emperor as Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom,
partially painted by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione,
mid-18th century, from the Alfred M. Sackler Gallery collection
|Portrait of Noblewoman from Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court|
In the West, images of kings and emperors have been commonplace for millennia. Think of coins and public statues. Full of symbolism and displays of wealth or talent, Western portraits were usually available to a wide audience in order to reinforce a leader’s strength and power.
|Copy of the Holbein Portrait of Henry VIII at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool|
The original was destroyed in a 1698 fire at the Palace of Whitehall.
|Portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor in Court Dress from the Palace Museum in Beijing|
Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court compels us to examine portraits of our own lives. My Nanny, my mother’s mother, kept pictures of all her grandchildren. She displayed them around the television, so she could see us every day. The size of our photo corresponded with our place in her heart. Favorites warranted 8” x 10”s or even 11” x 14”s. And so on down the line with the least favored portrayed in only wallet-size pics. If we displeased her, she laid our likeness facedown for a while. It was a surprisingly simple system that helped each of us to understand our status within a large extended family… not unlike the Qing Court!