(1) A formal court
robe, o- chaofu, with a silk gauze field and design embroidered with
silk thread and gold wrapped silk thread. 141 x 170 cm.
(2) Portrait of Yu Chenglong (1617-1684),
painted in the 18th or 19th century. Yu Chenglong wears a pufu with
a crane rank badge representing the first civil rank to which he was
elevated posthumously in 1706. The red knob on this hat is appropriate
to a first rank official.
(3) This huge portrait is of Daisan (1583-1648),
painted in the 18th-19th century. Daisan was a military hero and a prince.
(4) Jifu (dragon robe) of an empress,
perhaps Cixi, in kesi (split-weave tapestry) Showing seven of the twelve
symbols. The other five symbols are on the back of the robe. The two
symbols on the shoulder are partially visible. 19th century.
Qing Officials Rank Badges
||qilin (after 1662)
||leopard (after 1664)
||tiger (after 1664)
||rhinoceros (after 1766)
|See Camman, Schulyer "Chinese Mandarin Squares",
University of Pennsylvania Bulletin (June 1953)
Qing Officials Principal Hat Knobs
Between 1730 and 1911
opaque red (plain)
||opaque red (engraved)
|See Camman, Schulyer "Chinese Mandarin
University of Pennsylvania Bulletin (June 1953)
This list gives the largest stone at the apex of the hat
ornament" Some hat finials had smaller jewels on t'ne side. The
type and number of stones were regulated by the sumptuary laws. Colored
glass was sometimes substituted for a jewel.
Court hats were worn with the chaofu and informal hats
with the jifu.
Source: Adapted from Dickinion, G. and Wrigglesworth,
L. Imperial Wardrobe, pp.104,106,108 (1990). Revsed edition (2000)
The majority of the portraits are classified as ancestor, or memorial
portraits, defined as likenesses painted for the purpose of ritual worship.
These portraits follow a standard compositional formula, including presentation
of the figure full length and seated with a frontal orientation. Much
of the visual impact in a Chinese ancestor portrait is textiles: the
garments of the sitter, the cover for the chair, and in some portraits
a carpet. The following description focuses on portraye1 textiles.
Chinese ancestor portraits most often were commissioned by a direct
descendant, usually the oldest son, and the portraits were frequently
painted posthumously. Often, the deceased's facial features were modelled
by an artist who asked the relatives to study a book of sketches of
faces. The painter copied a nose from one face, eyes from another and
so forth based on instructions from the family. In the end, faces compiled
this way are indistinguishable from those painted from life. Occasionally,
the artist visited the subject on his or her death bed and rarely the
subject sat for the portrait near the end of life.
The Chinese believed that they could communicate with the spirit of
the ancestor by hanging his or her portrait, by performing a kowtow
(kneeling and knocking one's head on the floor) before it, and by burning
incense and placing candles, flowers, food and wine on an altar in front
of the portrait. Family members thought that they would be granted happiness,
health and many sons in their own lives by honouring and caring for
their ancestors' spirits.
Arguably, a portrait is not an "ancestor" portrait unless
it was actually made for, and used in, ritual worship. However, seldom
will purpose and usage be known, so a painting is classified as an ancestor
portrait if it includes certain elements. The identifying features in
ancestor portraits of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) are a person facing
directly forward with a solemn expression on his or her face and, typically,
in the case of upper class portraits, the subject clasps one of the
beads of a court necklace. The person is usually seated on a chair with
a rounded back (a shape of chair that indicates status or honour) and
the furniture is often covered by a patterned silk cloth or a tiger's
skin. The sitter is wearing a costume that identifies his or her rank.
Sometimes there is a carpet on the floor. The painted subjects mostly
wear their highest ranking costume, either a chaofu or court robe, which
is the most formal and highest rank of court dress, or a fiufu (which
translates as "surcoat with a patch") with a rank badge (the
patch) usually worn over a jifu ("festive dress", commonly
known as a dragon robe). Sometimes the pufu is worn over a chaofu. For
example, see (2).
or Court Dres
A chaofu generally was worn by the subject of the portrait if he was
entitled to wear one; it was the most prestigious robe which only the
highest ranking officials and certain imperial nobles were entitled
to wear. Relatively few chaofu ever existed because of the limited number
of persons permitted to wear them, and because few were needed since
their use was limited to important ceremonial occasions such as the
four annual sacrificial ceremonies conducted by the emperor or his delegate.
In theory, a person would own only two chaofu: one for winter and one
for summer, both made of different fabrics. Not many chaofu remain today
because persons were frequently buried in them; most of those that survive
are in poor condition.
18th and 19th century chaofu have a number of identifying features.
They have four dragons on the upper half of the robe: one on the chest,
one on the back of the robe and one on each shoulder, identical placement
to those found on dragon robes or jifu, discussed below. The robe usually
has two bands of dragons chasing a flaming pearl on the skirt. In most
extant 19th century chaofu there is a row of dragons in circles on the
skirt in lieu of one of the bands of dragons. See (1) showing an actual
The iconography at the bottom of the waist and on the band of the skirt
on (1) symbolizes the cosmos. At the bottom of each field of decoration
is the ocean, depicted as diagonal straight lines, crested by billowing
surf. At the center and near the side seams of the main area above the
waist are rock-like formations that symbolize mountains rising from
the water. Clouds that represent the firmament fill the remaining ground,
floating around multiple images of dragons that represent imperial power
over the universe.
The summer chaofu was made of gauze or a light weft woven silk (kesz,
also known as split-weave tapestry) and had a black and gold brocade
border (1). The winter robe was made of heavy silk and often was lined
with fur, such as sable. Most portraits show winter robes, perhaps because
these were the most expensive garments a person could own and descendants
wanted their forebears to appear their most majestic.
Imperial edicts, adopted in 1759, required that persons wear chaofu
appropriate to their rank. Various ranks were distinguished by color,
front-facing or profile dragons, five or four-clawed dragons and, in
the robes that have them, the number of dragon medallions on the second
band above the hem. The highest ranks had front-facing, five-clawed
dragons above the waist.
The colour of the field of the robe also determined rank. For example,
only the emperor and some of his sons could wear a chaofu colored any
shade of yellow. The robes worn by the emperor had a yellow field, the
heir apparent wore apricot yellow (orange), and the emperor other sons
wore "tawny-yellow" (brown). Other official had dark blue
robes. Special ceremonies required certain other colors, such as a red
imperial chaofu for sacrifices at the altar of the sun.
Sometimes ancestors where painted in higher rank clothing than they
had earned, in life. seems that the higher a persons rank, the less
likely the family was to risk censure by stretching the rules. But no
doubt some exceptions occurred.
The court dress of women, which corresponds to the chaofu worn by men,
commonly consisted of a vest worn over a robe with projecting shoulder
epaulettes and a large flapping collar that was detachable. Virtually
no women's court garments exist outside of the imperial collection in
Beijing. Perhaps it is because there were fewer of them since women
outside the imperial family were seldom involved in court ceremonies.
Pufu or Surcoats
with Rank badges
In their ancestor portraits, person, with rank are sometimes dressed
in a coat worn on top of a dragon robe or occasionally on top of a chaofu.
As noted above, the top coat, or surcoat, pufu in Chinese, is a garment
with a rank badge.
Pufu and jifu were worn more frequently than chaofu and on less formal
occasions. Persons of high rank such as the emperor, his sons and top
officials would own all three of the robes of rank discussed in this
document, but generally would be shown wearing the chaofu in their ancestor
As with the chaofu, the pufu is made of silk gauze or kesi for the summer
and a heavier satin-silk, sometimes lined with fur, for the winter.
There are three categories of rank: imperial, civil, military. Dragons
in roundels appear on imperial robes, birds on civil badges, and animals
on military badges. Chart 1 shows civil and military ranks. Civil and
military badges are square and were worn on the, chest on the front
and back of the robe. Imperial insignia is round and likewise was worn
on the upper front and back of the pufu; high-ranking persons also had
a roundel on each shoulder. See (3). Front-facing dragons with five
claws represent the highest rank. See (3). Profile dragons and those
with four claws were a step down.
Persons who served in the civil service wore a square badge on the
front and back of the pufu with a bird symbol. There were nine civil
ranks and a particular bird on a badge signified which rank the person
There were also nine ranks for military officials; a different animal
represented each rank. A pufu with a lion badge signifies the second
rank; a leopard badge, the third rank. See chart 1.
Jifu or Dragon
In contrast to the rare chaofu, there were many thousands of dragon
robes, also known as jifu ("festive dress"). These robes were
worn at court functions, but at those less formal than where the chaofu
Only a portion of the dragon robe is visible in ancestor portraits,
peeking out from under the pufu. Visible are the cuffs of the robe and
a portion of the skirt. The cuffs are shaped like a horseís foot and
are commonly referred to as "horse-hoof" cuff's.
The jifu,like the chaofu, has a. composition based on cosmology. Both
the skirt and cuffs show the ocean, waves and mountains. Nine dragons
appear on the highest rank imperial robes; three each on the front and
back, one on each shoulder and one inside the front flap of the robe.
Because the Chinese were anxious that their prayers reach their particular
ancestor and not someone else's relative, the face of the ancestor is
painted with great care by the studio's top artist. The props-chair,
costume and rugs were of secondary importance, so they were often painted
by less skilled artists.
Sometimes the entire portrait, except for the face, was painted and
kept in stock; the face was simply added later. Further, all but the
face could be painted from stencils. The rank shown by the costume does
not always accurately reflect the person's status. Based on a review
of 200 ancestor portraits in private and museum collections in China,
Canada, the United States and Europe, Jan Stuart reports that 90 per
cent of the portraits show noble or government officials (those with
rank badges) and 70 per cent show a ruby finial, which was reserved
for the first rank. Since persons at all levels of society had ancestor
portraits painted, it is impossible that all possessed the rank shown.
A certain amount of elevation of status was forgiven and commoners often
adopted lower official ranks. As noted previously, portraits of imperial
personages were more likely to authentically portray the rank because
assumption of a higher rank by such prominent persons may have been
Hats, Rugs and Chair Coverings
Virtually all portrait subjects wear hats. In the highly regulated Chinese
society, there were numerous rules relating to hats. A court hat (chaoguan)
was worn with a chaofu and a "festive hat" ( jiguan) was worn
with a jifu. Each had a winter hat (fur or velvet) and a summer one
(bamboo covered with silk cords).
High ranking persons wore hats with an elaborate gold finial decorated
with a large jewel on top and smaller jewels on the sides.
The type of large jewel or colour of a glass bead, used in place of
a jewel, on the top of the finial signified the person's rank. See Chart
For the most part, only the better quality ancestor portraits show carpets
because of the time and, consequently, expense in painting them. Rugs
were luxury goods in China typically displayed in front of an honoured
person or brought out for special occasions. Thus, their presence in
paintings enhances the status of the subject.
The rugs usually are painted with dots, like the 19th century European
painting technique of pointillism, to represent the knots in the rug;
that is, they are pile rugs and not flat woven ones. Most Chinese rugs
in the portraits appear to be made of wool.
The vast majority of the chairs are partially hidden by a silk cloth,
usually brocade, or by a tiger's skin. This reflects a custom in China
by which honour is shown to persons by presenting them seated on handsomely
adorned chairs. The chair (if covered) in the portraits of women is
almost always draped with a silk fabric and not an animal pelt. Men
are about as often seated on chairs with a silk covering as they are
on a chair with an animal skin.
The tiger pelts often show the head of the tiger between or under the
ancestor's feet, with two paws on either side and two others at the
level of the hem. Tiger pelts were usually lined with silk brocade.
· Chaofu-"court robe"; formal
robe worn on special occasions,
..such as major sacrificial ceremonies
and imperial audiences.
· Jifu-"festive robe", worn at court
· Pufu-surcoat with a rank badge
· Chaoguan-hat worn with a chaofu
· Jiguan-hat worn with a jifu
· Kesi-weft-woven or split-weave tapestry