This Chinese ancestor portrait scroll was commissioned after the death of an ancestor under the belief that, if properly worshipped and honoured, the spirit of the ancestor would bring good health, prosperity and children. Food was placed before the scrolls as an offering. The practise began during the late Ming dynasty and continued until it was largely usurped by photography in the 19th century. Ancestors were generally depicted almost life-size, seated in an elaborate chair and facing the viewer with a sombre, detached expression. Care was taken to depict the individual’s features accurately, as it was thought that an inaccurate depiction could result in prayers being received by the ancestor of another family. The chair would typically be draped in either fur or brocade and beneath it there was generally an elaborately decorated carpet. Woman’s feet (considered the most erotic part of her body) were covered; as often were women’s hands. Figures were depicted in their finest, most formal clothing. In the case of commoners, this was generally their wedding attire. During the Qing dynasty brides invariably wore red. Both men and women were sometimes depicted with elaborate headdresses and jewellery, as in this example.
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