Young Cixi: the Dowager Empress of China

2011
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13.5” tall

There are only a few photographs of Empress Cixi in existence and those show her only as a cranky-looking, old woman. Perhaps she deemed that sour facial expression as the most appropriate for a formal, royal photograph or maybe the burden of 40 years of absolute power had worn her smile out. Who knows?

In fact, the origins and youth of this powerful female figure are shrouded in mystery and have inspired much international curiosity and speculation about her persona. Over the last century there has been much historical fiction written about her life and times as a concubine and later, an Empress. Some of those accounts have even made it into official historical records.

This is my portrait of Cixi in her youth, as a beautiful concubine chosen for Xianfeng Emperor’s bed. She doesn’t know yet she will become the most powerful woman in China, but her eyes are shining secretly with the expectation of great change in her life.

The center headpiece is made from an antique Chinese hairpin from Qing Dynasty, same time period as the Dowager Empress Cixi herself. It’s made of intricately interlacing silver, decorated with blue Kingfisher feathers. I hunted this piece down in an antique shop and held it for a long time, admiring its delicacy and wondering whose hair it adorned a hundred years ago.

The rest of the hair ornaments I assembled from Rubies, Tourmalines, Opal, Turquoise, Coral, Pearls, Opalite glass, Cubic Zircon, sterling silver, seed beads, Austrian crystals and Chinese cloisonné beads.

The Cloisonné bracelets I brought from Paris. The fan is made with a Russian, hand painted Mother of Pearl attached to Bali Silver handle set with an Amethyst cabochon and a Cubic Zircon briolette.

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