Portrait of an Old Lady

Artist: Ruan Zude (Chinese, 16th or early 17th century)

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: dated "xinyou" (1561 or 1621?)

Culture: China

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk

Dimensions: Image: 61 3/4 x 37 7/8 in. (156.8 x 96.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Seymour Fund, 1959

Accession Number: 59.49.2


This image of an elegant elderly lady shows how the Chinese portrait painter conveyed a sense of status through a figure's accoutrements. The lady's wealth is suggested by her jewelry (gold-and-pearl earrings and an ornate headdress fashioned out of gold and kingfisher feathers), by her sumptuous outer robe of blue brocade and white underrobe fastened at the neck by gold clasps, and by the red-and-gold brocaded cloth draped over the back of her chair. Her family status is further underscored by the official belt inset with elaborately worked plaques and the large rank badge with Manchurian cranes-the insignia of a civil official of the highest rank. Since women were not eligible to hold government office, these marks of rank were probably inherited from her father.