Drawing on a wide variety of contemporaneous sources from Chinese history, literature, religious writings, and art and literary criticism, Spiro provides the modern reader with an aesthetic and social context for understanding early Chinese portraiture. "Contemplating the Ancients" introduces portraits that were never intended to be physical likenesses of their subjects and illuminates the meaning they held for the viewers for whom they were made. Spiro focusses on fourth- and fifth-century sets of almost identi- cal portraits of individuals known collectively in Chinese history as the Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove. Unlike the earlier Han dynasty portraits whose messages were universal, these exemplary portraits addressed a specific elitist audience. The subjects of these portraits served as idealized representations for a largely "nouvel-arrive" aristocracy. Spiro examines the complex and sometimes ironic changes that occur when historical individuals are transformed by tradition into classical exemplars. She shows how the visual arts translate ideals of personal character into stylistic cues and how these cues, in turn, affect the values and behavior of human beings.