Ancestral Temple, 1904

  • Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • Color on paper
  • Museum purchase, 2002
  • E302041

This rendering of a temple complex is intended as a surrogate for actual buildings used for ancestor offerings. Although this composition has a strong degree of balance and symmetry, the symmetry is not perfect. Small discrepancies from one side to the other give the painting dynamism, and avoid the stagnancy of perfect balance. Symmetry is a constant in Chinese design, especially in formal circumstances such as ceremonial and temple architecture. Communication with deceased members of a clan lineage is a fundamental aspect of Chinese society, and forms of ancestral worship predated Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism.

Inscription: “I heard that the rules of ceremonies are fixed, and peoples consciousness of filial piety is inexhaustible. According to traditional laws, the emperor can build seven temples, princes can build five, high officials can build three, and low officials can build one. Common people are not allowed to establish temples for their ancestors. Therefore the building here is a so-called temple, but actually is not.”