Albums of Ordinary Faces: The Practice of Portrait Painting in Late Imperial China

Mar 27, 2019, 4:30 pm4:30 pm
106 McCormick



Event Description

Painted portraits were of paramount importance in Chinese society of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912) and produced in enormous numbers, on a scale even larger than in the West. Yet, in Chinese art history and art collections they figure less prominently than in the West. Portraits documented families and ancestors in China, and with the exception of portraits of famous artists or scholars remained separate from the world of art. Consequently, they have been studied much less, and many questions remain about the practice of portrait painting. It is clear that both for ancestor and family portraits and for portraits of the literati, draft portrait faces were produced first by professional portrait painters. These draft portraits were then copied into the larger final portraits. After the drafts had fulfilled their purpose, they were sometimes kept by the portrait painting studios, pasted in albums, probably to show as models to future customers. At least seventeen such collections, comprising over 2,700 individual portraits of men and women, have been preserved, with one exception all in American and European museums. Executed by different hands in a number of styles, sometimes provided with short explanatory inscriptions, they offer fascinating primary material for the study of portrait painting in China.

Klaas Ruitenbeek was the Director of the Asian Art Museum, National Museums in Berlin, until October 2018 and continues to be involved in the planning of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, to be opened Spring 2020. His most recent exhibitions are “The Ruins of Kocho: Traces of Wooden Architecture on the Ancient Silk Road”, Berlin 2016; “Faces of China: Portrait Painting of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912)”, Berlin 2017 (in collaboration with the Palace Museum, Beijing, and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto).

Selected Publications:

Carpentry and Building in Late Imperial China. A Study of the Fifteenth-Century Carpenter's Manual Lu Ban jing. Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1993, 520 pp., 2nd ed. 1996.

Discarding the Brush. Gao Qipei (1660-1734) and the art of Chinese finger painting. Exhibition catalogue. Amsterdam/Gent, Rijksmuseum/Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1992, 342 pp. 

“Mazu, the patroness of sailors, in Chinese pictorial art”, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 58:3/4 (1999), pp. 281-329.

Lu Xun: Verzameld werk(Collected Stories of Lu Xun). Amsterdam, Meulenhof, 2000, 603 pp. [Dutch translations of the stories of the famous Chinese writer Lu Xun (1881-1936)].

Chinese Shadows: Stone reliefs, rubbings, and related works of art from the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) in the Royal Ontario Museum.Exhibition catalogue. ROM, Toronto, 2002, 92 pp.

“The Northwestern Style of Eastern Han Pictorial Stone Engraving: The Tomb of Zuo Biao and Other Eastern Han Tombs near Lishi, Shanxi Province”, in Cary Y. Liu, Michael Loewe et al., Rethinking Recarving: Ideals, Practices, and Problems of the “Wu Family Shrines” and Han China. Princeton, Princeton University Art Museum, 2008, pp. 132-159.

“The Islands of the Immortals”, in Ka Bo Tsang, Lennert Gesterkamp, Klaas Ruitenbeek, Beyond Clouds and Waves: Daoist Paintings in the Royal Ontario Museum.Toronto,  Royal Ontario Museum, 2013, pp. 100-123.

“Mansions in Life and in Death”, in Jerome Silbergeld and Dora C.Y. Ching (ed.), The Family Model in Chinese Art and Culture. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2013, pp. 229-274.

“Ruin Q in Kocho and its wooden architectural elements”, pp. 103-126 in The Ruins of Kocho: Traces of Wooden Architecture on the Ancient Silk Road, Berlin 2016.

Faces of China: Portrait Painting of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912), exhibition catalog, Berlin 2017, 368 pp (editor).

  • Program in East Asian Studies
  • The Tang Center
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