H0046-L81176949

A LARGE IMPERIAL PORTRAIT OF CONSORT CHUNHUI BY GIUSEPPE CASTIGLIONE AND OTHERS, TITLE CALLIGRAPHY BY THE QIANLONG EMPEROR QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD |

A LARGE IMPERIAL PORTRAIT OF CONSORT CHUNHUI BY GIUSEPPE CASTIGLIONE AND OTHERS, TITLE CALLIGRAPHY BY THE QIANLONG EMPEROR QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD |

A LARGE IMPERIAL PORTRAIT OF CONSORT CHUNHUI BY GIUSEPPE CASTIGLIONE AND OTHERS, TITLE CALLIGRAPHY BY THE QIANLONG EMPEROR QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD |

A LARGE IMPERIAL PORTRAIT OF CONSORT CHUNHUI BY GIUSEPPE CASTIGLIONE AND OTHERS, TITLE CALLIGRAPHY BY THE QIANLONG EMPEROR QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD |

Lot 3202. A large imperial portrait of Consort Chunhui by Giuseppe Castiglione and others, title calligraphy by the Qianlong Emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 198 by 123 cm., 77 7/8  by 48 3/8  in. Estimate Upon Request. Sold for 137,400,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

hanging scroll, ink and colour on silk, majestically and vividly painted in precise detail with Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui seated in formal robes (chao fu) on an elaborate throne, the full-length imperial-portrait (shengrong) of the imperial consort resplendently rendered with a well-proportioned and porcelain-complexioned face, the regal yet serene expression accentuated with a powerful gaze transmitted from her almond-shaped eyes, the lips picked out with a warm ombré coral colour, flanked by a pair of earlobes adorned with three embellished double-gourd drop earrings on each side, clad in a fur-edged ceremonial costume comprising a full-length robe (chao pao) under a further full-length sleeveless vest (chao gua) with shoulder epaulettes projecting outwards from both shoulders, the vest opening down the centre along a border enclosing stylised lingzhi blooms, the garment elaborately decorated with five-clawed scaly dragons soaring sinuously amidst multi-coloured lingzhi blooms, above stylised 'shou' roundels and brightly coloured lishui diagonal stripes, all against a rich blue ground, the grandeur further highlighted with long beaded necklaces (chao zhu) of varying colours and sizes elegantly hanging over and around the figure's upper torso, all below a kerchief under a court hat (chao guan) with a black fur brim and a crown decorated with red floss silk tassels and ornamented gold phoenix, the golden-yellow rectangular throne framed on three sides with an ornate throne-back entwined with ferocious dragons sinuously writhing around the members, all supported on dragon-head cabriole legs terminating in claw-and-ball feet, the figure seated on a thick yellow-ground cushion decorated in multi-coloured threads with auspicious emblems, inscribed on the right with five characters by the Qianlong Emperor reading Chunhui Huangguifei ('Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui'), mounted on imperial yellow silk embroidered with phoenix amidst swirling clouds.

Discussing the 'Portrait of Consort Chunhui in Ceremonial Costume'
Nie Chongzheng

There exist many portrait paintings of past emperors and their consorts, as recorded in the archives of the Qing dynasty palace, from the first Qing dynasty reign of Shunzhi, until the reign of the Xuantong Emperor at the end of the dynasty. All dressed in the full official regalia of the period, they provide us with a wealth of information about these individuals and their appearances.  This is especially the case during the Qianlong period. The Qianlong Emperor lived to the ripe old age of 89, and reigned for 60 of those years, and even after abdicating in favour of his heir the Jiaqing Emperor, he still reigned supreme for a further three years. During this long reign, he frequently and consistently commissioned artists to paint portraits of him and his empress and consorts. From his youth as the heir apparent, right through his advanced age, he was painted at various stages and intervals by different artists. Not only do these provide visual testaments of the Qianlong Emperor, but they also immortalise his consorts in these portraits. 

In the first half of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, the Italian painter Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione) painted several portraits of the emperor and his consorts. He was born in 1688 (the 27th year of the Kangxi reign, Qing Dynasty) and was a painter at the imperial court from the 54th year of the Kangxi reign (1715) when he arrived in China, and never retired from his position, passing away in the 31st year of Qianlong’s reign (1766). His remains have been buried far from his homeland, in Beijing and still rest there today. Lang Shining played an important role in painting such imperial portraits. The works that remain allow us to appreciate the fruit of his labour, and are also noted down in the records of the imperial palace. 

Lang Shining received his basic artistic training in Europe and had a strong grasp of the fundamentals of portraiture. His true-to-life portraits were greatly admired by the Qianlong Emperor, and as such, resulted in his commissioning Lang Shining to paint many of these imperial portraits. Therefore, many of the portraits painted during the first half of Qianlong’s reign were by Lang Shining’s own hands. 

However, because most of these portraits do not bear the artist’s name or seal, it has created problems in attributing these works. This is because while it was deemed a great honour to be able to paint the portrait of the emperor or his consorts, it was, in fact, a duty to the ruler, and as such, to show due respect to the emperor and the members of the imperial family. Artists were not usually allowed to leave their mark on these portraits. In the Palace Museum, Beijing, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei, there are collections of imperial portraits, especially those portraying the imperial family in ceremonial costumes. Although the lack of an artist’s signature or seal may seem to present problems in the task of authentication, identification and attribution during the Qianlong period, the differences in techniques and styles between the European painters at the Chinese court, and the Chinese painters working in the Palace can be readily discerned by experts analysing this field and thus do not necessarily pose a problem. 

We now turn to the Portrait of Consort Chunhui. It is a portrait of one of the Qianlong Emperor’s consorts, which is painted in ink and colour on silk, and measures 198 by 123 cm. It does not bear any inscription or artist’s seal, and is also without any Qing official collector’s seal. However, on the right hand side of the subject matter, there is a line in calligraphic script, naming her Consort Chunhui. This is undoubtedly by the hand of the Qianlong Emperor. Information from records state that this consort was of Manchu origin, called Su Jiashi, daughter of Su Zhaonan, born in the 52nd year of the Kangxi reign (1713), and was two years younger than the Qianlong Emperor. During the Yongzheng period she was a lady-in-waiting, and soon after Qianlong ascended to the throne she was made imperial consort, and in the 2nd year of Qianlong’s reign (1737) was named Chunfei. In the 10th year of Qianglong’s reign (1745), she became Chun Guifei. In the 25th year of the Qianlong reign (1760), she was made Chun Huang Guifei. She passed away the same year at the age of 48.  Posthumously, she was awarded the title ‘Consort Chunhui’ by the Emperor. This painting is currently the only example of her in full ceremonial costume, and the inscription by the emperor, most likely written after her death, demonstrates his remembrance of his deceased consort.

From this scroll, it is evident that the painter was skilled in analysing structure and perspective – the subject matter’s facial features are rendered using both light and shade, and are clear and distinct. In addition, the sides of the nose and cheeks have been painted to provide three-dimensionality, at the same time intricately depicting the flesh and tone of skin. The artist was also proficient in painting the throne and floor covering. Chunhui is also depicted on Lang Shining’s Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts (fig. 1), now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. In this work, produced in the first year of Qianlong’s reign, Chunhui is fourth in the sequence (fig. 2). Comparing the two portraits of the imperial consort, it is clear that they are of the same person, save for the fact that the subject in the present portrait is slightly older than that in the group portrait; both portraits are by the same artist. As the Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts is inarguably by the hand of Lang Shining, even though there is no seal on the painting, by inference, the European style and technique used in the present scroll attribute the painting to Lang Shining. As a distinctive European style can be detected, as well as taking into account the striking similarities, it is not unreasonable to attribute this work to Lang Shining. However as the lines of drapery, the throne and the carpet are painted with a more Chinese technique, it is likely that these areas were painted by Chinese students of Lang Shining, filling in the outline that he had left for them to complete. This style, however, still retains Qing official style. 

1969

fig. 1. Giuseppe Castiglione and others (Chinese), Portraits of Emperor Qianlong, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts, handscroll, ink and colour on silk, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period © The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund 1969.31.

H0046-L81218147

fig. 2. Giuseppe Castiglione and others (Chinese), Portraits of Emperor Qianlong, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts, handscroll, ink and colour on silk, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (Details) © The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund 1969.31