Anonymous, An Informal Portrait of the Daoguang Emperor (1782-1850)
Early 19th Century Ink and color on silk, now framed and glazed. 51 1/2 x 29 1/4in (130.8 x 74.3cm) sight
無款 清朝皇室肖像 設色絹本 鏡框
Provenance： acquired in China by an American missionary family before 1945 and thence by descent to the present through a private family collection
Donning his semi-formal court robes (jifu), the Daoguang emperor (reigned 1821-1850) gazes unflinchingly as if to acknowledge the presence of the viewer. The fur trim on his hat, cuffs and hem indicate a winter setting, and the twelve symbols of imperial authority (five visible) on his imperial yellow robe leave little doubt to his identity. Seated on a raised dais and yellow cushion, the emperor has an open book placed on a gilt lacquered low table, with ink stone and brushes at the ready. Two low tables flank him, with fine porcelain, jades and an archaic bronze attest to his connoisseurship and erudition. Behind him hang long panels of calligraphy in gold ink on indigo, although the text has not been identified, stylistically it is likely mimicking a passage written by the Qianlong emperor, the sitter's grandfather.
The Daoguang emperor--who used the personal name Minning, and Manchurian name Doro Eldengge--was chosen as the heir apparent by his father the Jiaqing emperor in 1799, after the hundred day mourning period for the Qianlong emperor had passed. However, the selection of Minning as the heir was kept secret and not revealed until the Jiaqing Emperor was on his deathbed in 1820. As the sixth Qing emperor to rule of China, Minning oversaw the early turbulence of the China's difficult nineteenth century.
Unlike the formal ancestor portrait, the more casual portrait of the emperor in a study, provides a window to the material culture and a more personal glimpse of the individual. In the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing there are also informal portraits of the Kangxi and Jiaqing emperors, in similar poses and settings. The Qianlong emperor was depicted in numerous informal portraits often surrounded by his collection of antiquities, paintings, and books. The present portrait shows less extravagance, but the Daoguang emperor was a man known for his frugality, sometimes wearing court robes that had been patched.
Whereas the depiction of the emperor as a learned and scholarly individual would be a positive message to project, it was by no means an empty gesture. The Qing emperors prided themselves on their education. In fact the Daoguang emperor himself wrote of spending "over thirty years" in the classrooms of the Palace set up for the education of young princes and elite boys.
A strikingly similar portrait of the Daoguang emperor seated in his study is in the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing. It is nearly identical, with the exception that it lacks the indigo and gold calligraphic backdrop. On the issue of duplicates, see Jan Stuart and Evelyn RawskiWorshipping the Ancestors Chinese Commemorative Portraiture Washington, 2001 pp. 104-111.