Document Type



Author's Final Manuscript

Publication Title

Monumenta Serica



Publication Date



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.