Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor and His Twelve Consorts
Formal portraiture contributed to the affirmation of status and construction of role and identity. This scroll served as both familial documentation and a "mind picture" of the Qianlong emperor, suggesting that his constructed image of emperorship was inseparable from concepts of self and family. It was stored in a carved red lacquer box bearing the original painting title Mind Picture of a Well-Governed and Tranquil Reign. Qianlong's portrait is inscribed with a date of 1736, the year he ascended the throne. The other portraits document the appearances of the empress and eleven consorts around the time when they received their respective imperial titles, which occurred at different stages of the emperor's life. The first three portraits were done by the Jesuit missionary-artist Giuseppe Castiglione whereas the others were by the Chinese court painters. Qianlong had unrolled and viewed the scroll in his old age, as indicated by the impression of the seals he used after abdicating in 1796.