Sunday, January 1, 2012

Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through January 16, 2012

Yet again, I'm reminded of why the Sackler is my favorite of the Smithsonian museums.  Even though I visited this show during the week between Christmas and New Year's, when the museums are filled with tourists, the Sackler was mercifully quiet.

This exhibit showcases portraits of members of the Qing dynasty court, both men and women.  The Qing dynasty ruled in China from the mid-1600s until 1912.  The portraits of women were commissioned by male descendants, who used the paintings for ancestor worship.  The portraits of men were commissioned by themselves during their lifetime to serve more secular purposes.  Although the women are always depicted in formal court attire, reflecting the status of their husbands, the men are depicted both formally and informally.

I was struck by a portrait of Hongyan, Prince Guo, who was shown reading in a spring garden.  If there's any truth to reincarnation (and I don't think there is), I want to come back as a Chinese gentleman scholar.  Reading, writing, talking about what you've read and written with friends - now that's the life.

The paintings themselves are quite impressive - huge pieces that tower over the viewer.

Verdict: Go see this show - it's not terribly large, so a lunch hour is plenty of time to see everything.

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