Author's Final Manuscript
Located in present-day Jiaxiang in Shandong province, the Wu family shrines built during the second century in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) were among the best-known works in Chinese art history. Although for centuries scholars have exhaustively studied the pictorial programs, the frontal-pose female image situated on the second floor of the central pavilion carved at the rear wall of the shrines has remained a question. Beginning with the woman’s eyes, this article demonstrates that the image is more than a generic portrait (“hard motif ”), but rather represents “feminine overseeing from above” (“soft motif ”). This synthetic motif combines three different earlier motifs – the frontal-pose hostess enjoying entertainment, the elevated spectator, and the Queen Mother of the West. By creatively fusing the three motifs into one unity, the Jiaxiang artists lent to the frontal-pose lady a unique power: she not only dominated the center of the composition, but also, like a divine being, commanded a unified view of the surroundings on the lofty building, hence echoing the political reality of the empress mother’s “overseeing the court” in the second century during Eastern Han dynasty.
Shi, Jie. 2015. "The Overseeing Mother: Revisiting the Frontal-Pose Lady in the Wu Family Shrines in Second Century China." Monumenta Serica 63.2: 263–293.