After doing a bit of research I am now quite fascinated by these portrait paintings created by artists specifically for use so that families can worship their deceased family members.
The Chinese have long had a profound connection to their ancestors. They believe that death does not sever a person's relationship with the living and that, if properly worshipped and honored in private family rituals, the spirits of their ancestors can bring them health, long life, prosperity and children who will someday similarly honor their parents.
The ancestors were almost always depicted nearly life-sized in a frontal pose, usually seated in an elaborately carved chair draped in brocade or fur, with a lavish carpet at their feet. All ancestors wore semiformal winter gowns or fur-trimmed robes. The only differences are gender-related: the women's feet, considered the most erotic part of her body, were always hidden;and most woman's hands were also hidden as well.
All ancestors were painted with virtually the same expression, yet great care is taken in the portraits to record the deceased's face realistically. Capturing the likeness was crutial for the portrait to be able to function as a ritual object.
Besides being compelling art, the paintings reveal much about Chinese social and cultural history. With the development of photograpy in the 19th century, the painting of ancestor portraits began to wane. People were photographed rather than painted, and still today such photographic portraits continue to hold a central place in the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship.