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Haoyang ZHAO

University of Glasgow (Glasgow)
School of Culture & Creative Arts

Thesis Topic

Revisiting Huangchao Liqi Tushi, a biographical review of the production, provenance and visual representation of a looted Qing imperial album discovered in the western collections

Huangchao Liqi Tushi, or the Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Present Dynasty, is an illustrated encyclopaedic manuscript of the Qing ritual and regulations, commissioned during the reign of Qianlong Emperor (r.1736–1795). Produced in multiple formats, including coloured and printed editions, it was recognised as an important visual reference of Qing imperial regulation. In addition to the two complete editions held in the National Museum of China and the Palace Museum Beijing, today, incomplete portions coloured HCLQTS pages are found in several collections outside China. However, how these pages connected to each other, and how they match to editions recorded in Qing archives remain largely unclear. Moreover, regardless that several portions collected outside China show direct or indirect links to Yuanming Yuan provenance, limited research attempted to confirm it in more details.

Starting as an ‘object biography’, this study surveys all the known HCLQTS pages from the collections and art market records outside China, their provenance information in the mid-late 19th century UK, and the records from the Qing imperial archives. By analysing the findings, the study distinguishes pages among different editions, and successfully re-attribute the scattered pages found outside China into the original ninety-two-volume order. Secondly, the study examines the whole progress of the nearly thirty-year long project, uncovers the mechanism and collaborations among imperial workshops, including the activities of rarely mentioned low ranked artists contributed to the project. Thirdly, the study successfully linked provenances of most portions to two British soldiers who involved in the looting of Yuanming Yuan in 1860, proving the rumoured provenance to be true. More importantly, the provenance research suggests the circulation of Chinese pictorial art, including HCLQTS, had been circulated via rare book dealers and collectors in the mid-late 19th century UK, rather than the commonly believed antique dealers. Lastly, benefit from the close examination of both records and actual pages during the process, the study finds each HCLQTS illustrations achieves a great level of detail and accuracy in representing the colour and quality of various materials. Based on this discovery, the study further finds the representation of the used condition, suggesting illustrations might not be only an ideal model understood in the past. All the findings suggest that HCLQTS may also be used as visual references for other court paintings.

The Winter Court Robe Worn by the Emperor No.1 (museum inv. number: 817–1896)
© Victoria & Albert Museum