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Detail, Portrait of Hongtaiji, Emperor Taizong (1592-1643), in Meditation. China, Qing dynasty, 18th–19th century. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk. Image credit: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S1991.63

Portraits from the Qing Court Reveal a Powerful Imperial Family

Media only: Megan Krefting 202-633-0271; kreftingm@si.edu
Public only: 202.633.1000

May 23, 2011

"Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court" at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery presents lavish portraits, rare jewelry and other objects that offer a fascinating look at imperial family life in the later half of China's Qing dynasty. On view June 11 through Jan. 16, 2013, the exhibition features 16 paintings of imperial men and women, related by blood or marriage, whose intricate liaisons and political ambitions shaped the history of the Qing dynasty from the early to mid-18th century. The portraits provide glimpses of a court often filled with intrigue.

Almost evenly divided between images of men and women, the portraits—some nearly life-size—show the royal family members dressed in the elaborate formal robes required for attendance at court or more casual attire in moments of leisure. The women are generally depicted wearing sumptuous, embroidered robes and elaborate jewelry made of gold and pearls or inlaid with dazzling turquoise kingfisher feathers. The men are shown riding horses, relaxing in a garden or boat, meditating quietly with rosary beads or seated in a formal setting among their favorite possessions.

A number of jewelry pieces on display resemble those worn in several of the court paintings.

"The portraits have remarkable artistic and historic value because they tell stories about men and women of power and influence in the imperial court and how their relationships and histories intertwined," said Stephen Allee, research specialist in Chinese painting and calligraphy.

Four of the portraits and most of the objects in the show have never been publically exhibited and were specifically restored for the exhibition. The other 12 portraits have not been on view for more than a decade.

The Sackler will present a second exhibition focused on the Qing court from Sept. 24 through Jan. 29, 2012. "Power|Play: China's Empress Dowager" will feature a rare collection of photographs of Grand Empress Dowager Cixi—China's supreme leader for more than 45 years. These elaborately staged shots of Cixi and her court represent a unique convergence of Qing court pictorial traditions, modern photographic techniques and Western standards of artistic portraiture.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events, the public may visit www.asia.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.

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The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.