Is "authority" something that can be seen...?
The idea of authority may be abstract and difficult to grasp but has always found expression in the visual arts, where its presence has long been seen and felt. The subject of this special exhibition, "imperial portraiture," has often been considered among scholars as simply a form of illustrating these important rulers in history. However, imperial portraits are not only fine works of art, they also represent the fundamentals and "face" of authority itself in Chinese history.
The emperors and empresses in these portraits reflect people of the highest status and power at the time. But how were the portraits produced to represent the lofty and noble hierarchy of these figures as being above and different from that of ordinary folks? Furthermore, how did viewers of these works discern the figures therein as leaders truly invested with the "authority" to rule?
To answer these questions, this special exhibition features a select group of imperial portraits done over the dynasties that were stored at the Nanxun Hall in the imperial court during the Qing dynasty. As presented here, the display seeks to demonstrate how artists at different times in the past rendered such facets as visage, pose, apparel, seating, screen arrangement, and decoration on the surface of these paintings to express the majesty of emperors and empresses, thereby allowing the glory of their "authority" to emanate from within.
Publication: Facets of Authority: A Special Exhibition of Imperial Portraits from the Nanxun Hall