Robe with all-weather sleeves, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). © Rossi & Rossi

This robe has a length of 119 centimetres, width of 224 centimetres across the sleeves and a width of 105 centimetres in the area of the skirt. It was made of two different fabrics, the exterior of the robe being a silk damask in light brown colour, the lining a light blue silk tabby. It has a cross collar, long and narrow sleeves, comparably narrow waist and a wide skirt. The outer panel of the robes front overlaps the inner panel to the right and is secured by three silk ribbon stays, which are of the same silk damask as the robes exterior and are each 4 centimetres wide and 25 centimetres long. They were tied to another three ribbons connected to the back of the robe. In addition, the inner panel has a single ribbon of the same light blue silk tabby as the lining; it is 2.5 centimetres wide by 20 centimetres long and was tied to another ribbon under the left arm. In the region of the skirt at the back of the robe (to the right) is a pleat of some 33 centimetres of material to form a vent for horseback riding. At the robes midsection fabric, from both the top and the skirt, portions of the robe have been cut and folded inwards to create a tailored waist. A possible tailoring plan for the robe demonstrates that a total of seven metres of fabric would have been required for the robes construction, this being the least amount of fabric generally used in Mongol robes. 

A standard product of the Yuan in both its cut and general styling, this robe has yet one remarkable feature the sleeves, which could be worn at full length during the winter, and thanks to slits in the fabric at the shoulders, could be folded back in the summer and attached to the robes back. The two slits are each 22.5 centimetres long and are located about 78 centimetres above the cuff. The loops for attaching the bottom portion of the sleeves to the back are located about 16 centimetres above the cuff, and the button they could be attached to is located at the centre of the back of the robe about 14 centimetres below the collar. 

The damask of the robes exterior layer bears a pattern of lozenges against which is a repeated motif of flying birds. The foundation weave is twill in S and Z directions to form the lozenge design on which the flying birds, one row facing leftwards and the other facing right in staggered arrangement, are in units of 6.8 centimetres in the warp direction and 7.2 centimetres in the weft direction. Similar weaves with a lozenge twill as the ground date back as early as the Liao period (907-1125), but became particularly popular in the Yuan dynasty. There are many excavated examples, such as a robe with swallows and plum blossoms on a lozenge ground from the tomb of Li Yuan (1350) (Zhoucheng, Shandong) and a damask belt embroidered with boys and lotus from the Dove Cave, Longhua (Hebei). The flying birds as a repeated motif is also very common within all the Yuan ruyi-period arts, and can be found not only on textiles found in China, but also in those discovered in Korea. 

On each of the shoulders of the robe is an embroidered rosette roundel (about 10 centimetres in diameter) flanked to one side by a triangular configuration of a vine-like motif with ruyi-shaped fungus and lotus with a width of 24 centimeters at its bottom. The implication of the design is that the triangular formation is a kind of plinth for the rosette. The embroiderer first couched wrapped gold threads on a piece of silk textile, with some padding underneath to form a raised outline, and then stitched the embroidered piece onto the robe in the standard procedure of appliqué. Similar designs to the rosette and scrolling vine plinth can be found in some other Yuan costumes. One example in the collection of the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou is a gold couched embroidery of the sun and the moon (two roundels) flanked by a triangular arrangement of clouds and attached to a robe as appliqué designs. In accordance with standard Chinese symbology, the roundel of the sun contains a three legged bird, while that of the moon contains a rabbit. Another example is a gilt brocade robe at the Museum of Mongol Art in Hohhot, which has a similar sun and moon motif flanked by triangularly configured dragons instead of clouds. 

This robes retractable style of sleeves is so far unique amongst archaeological textiles in China, but has been found on a similar robe of probably Caucasian origins currently preserved in a private collection. It seems likely that this fashion of sleeve is of a Central Asian origin and was adopted by the Mongols through contact with their imperial domains there.


Robe with silk braiding decoration, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). © Rossi & Rossi

In Yuan dynasty documents, one of the most common types of ceremonial robe was the bian xian ao or bian xian pao. Ao and pao are alternative words for robe, but bian means braid while xian means threads, thus braided thread robe. The present robe is one of the best extant examples of such a garment, the silk braiding being implemented in the cummerbund-like waist decoration, which in the robe in Plate IX is composed of ribbons. Curiously enough, the couched pairs of silk threads filling the band at the waist give the effect of braided cords, without actually being braided. 

In each pair, one thread has been plied with two S twisted silk yarns into Z direction, and the other with two Z twisted yarns plied into S direction, and thus the effect is achieved. 

There are in total 97 pairs of silk braids in the waist area, giving it a width of 24.5 centimetres. This same technique for a braided effect can be widely found on robes from other Yuan excavations. One good example is a nasji robe from Mingshui (Inner Mongolia) in the collection of the Museum of Mongol Art, Hohhot. 

The robe is 123 centimetres in length, 202 centimetres in width across the sleeves, and 46 centimetres in width at the waist. Its front panel opens to the right with five ribbons of purple complex gauze, each 2.8 centimetres wide and 24 centimetres long, which, when tied to five other purple gauze ribbons on the right waist, secured the robe. On the inside panel, a silk tabby ribbon, 2.5 centimetres by 9 centimetres, would have been tied to a now-lost ribbon on the underside of the left arm. 

Like the robe in Plate IX, the top of the robe and the skirt are separate pieces of fabric, the skirt being composed of two panels. Since the textile used for the front panel of the robe is somewhat wider than other comparable examples for this type of robe, the tailoring method is therefore slightly different. The panels of the skirt are also much wider than in comparable robes, and with many more pleats stitched into the border at the waist in total 224 pleats, each three centimetres in length. The flat, overlapping collar is 7 centimetres wide, and the border around the hem of the skirt originally had a layer composed of feathers, but that has now almost completely disappeared leaving a silk tabby base between four and six centimetres in width. 

The same silk tabby composes the fabric for the robes lining, but the exterior layer of the robe is the so-called nasji, in which lampas is used as the basic weave structure and gold threads for the patterning wefts. So on this textile, two sets of warps a foundation warp and a binding warp were woven with two sets of wefts a foundation weft made of silk and supplementary wefts made of gold-wrapped threads to form a foundation weave in ribbed tabby and a binding weave in 1/3Z twill. The woven pattern employs small hexagons as a ground and tear-shaped lobed roundels enclosing running deer as the main motif, one row of deer running leftwards and the other row running rightwards. Based on analysis of the fabric, the loom width would have been about 88 centimetres, including eight repeats of the tear-shaped roundels. 

This shape of roundel was popular during the Yuan dynasty, as was the use of deer as decorative motifs. 

On the shoulder is a band some 14.5 centimetres long bearing a pattern with a strong Islamic flavour, and is possibly a design in pseudo Kufic script. Similar patterns have been found on other Mongol robes and textiles, such as a Mingshui nasji robe and other textile fragments from this region. This kind of band decoration, in fact, dates back at least to the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) as attested by an excavated robe with bands in gold brocade on the shoulder, sleeves and lower section of the skirt. 

The cuffs of the sleeves are also of gilt fabric, being adorned with a diamond-shaped grid, each of the diamonds containing a rosette at its centre. This is also a very common pattern in Yuan dynasty textiles and can be found on such pieces such as the patchwork from the Dove Cave at Longhua (Hebei). However, the weave structure is very unusual there are no binding warps. One reason for this might be that the minuteness of the pattern and shortness of the gold threads on the face meant that a special binding warp was not necessary, but instead utilised the pairs of foundation warps to bind the gold threads.






Damask robe with ribboned waist decoration, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). © Rossi & Rossi

This very typical Mongolian robe of the Yuan dynasty has a flat crossing collar, narrow sleeves and waist and silk tying ribbons. It is 126 centimetres in length, 218 centimetres across the sleeves, 110 centimetres wide at the robes skirt and 49 centimetres at the waist The collar is 7.2 centimetres wide. Eighteen silk ribbons with a width of 0.7 centimetres have been stitched horizontally around the waist to form a broad band some 18.5 centimetres in width, which visually is not unlike the modern cummerbund. This kind of waist decoration composed of silk ribbons has so far not been found on other Yuan robes. Made of the same silk damask as the robes exterior layer, each ribbon is knotted three times, in the middle of the waist, front and back, and at the wearers right side, where are also located seven knotted buttons which are secured by corresponding loops located also to wearers right at the waist. A ribbon of the same silk tabby as the robes lining hangs under the left arm. At 19 centimetres in length and 2.5 centimetres in width, it would have been secured to another silk ribbon that was once connected to the inner panel of the robe. 

Although of the same material as the top of the robe, the garments skirt is, in fact, composed of two separate pieces of fabric. The two panels, both about 64 centimetres in length, have different widths of 129 and 187 centimetres. At the top of both panels, and therefore just below the ribboned waist, the material has been folded over and stitched into tight, tiny pleats, numbering altogether 153. At the back of the skirt to the wearers left is a riding vent of some 19 centimetres of overlapping material. 

The lining layer of the robe is of silk tabby, with a similar layout to the exterior, but with fewer and looser pleats. A reconstruction of the tailoring pattern for the exterior layer suggests this robe would have required 7.5 metres of silk. 

The exterior layer of the robe is a twill damask, 1/2S twill on 2/1Z twill, with motifs of flying birds and small flowers, which is repeated in 7 centimetre units in both warp and weft directions and in a very similar style to that of the robe with all weather sleeves. Twill damask, especially using 2/1 and 1/2 in different directions, was a very popular combination of pattern and ground weaves in the Yuan period. Many fragments with this weave structure have been found, two good examples being a pair of patchwork textiles from the Dove Cave at Longhua (Hebei). One had seven of its seventeen parts using this weave structure, and the other had four of its twelve patches utilising this weave. 



Hat, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). © Rossi & Rossi

There were many types of hats in the Yuan dynasty, as attested both by historical documents and archaeological excavations. Roughly they can be divided into two groups, one made of relatively inflexible materials such as bamboo and palm fibre, and those made of flexible materials, such as felt and woven textiles. According to a contemporaneous Korean source, all the ceremonial hats of the Yuan court used either gold or agate for the finial on the hats crest. 

The present hat has such a finial made of the nasji gilt textile. Like the robe with foldable sleeves in Plate VIII, this hat is what one could call an all-weather item. In the winter, three long flaps encircle the crown for all but the area above the wearers face, protecting the neck from cold winds. Loops at the end of each flap allowed them to be folded up in warmer weather and secured to a button at the back of the crown. Two yellow silk damask ribbons, each 7 centimetres wide and 46 centimetres long, also descend from either side of the crown and were used to tie the hat to the wearers head. In addition, two small purple gauze ribbons, 3 centimetres by 29 centimetres, at either side of the area left for the face could also be tied under the wearers chin for further security. At the front of the hats crown, just above the facial opening, there was probably once a fringe of feathers, although now only an empty area of silk tabby remains. Among extant hats dating to the Yuan dynasty, the most similar one to the present example was found at Mingshui and decorated with confronted falcons. 

It also had two pairs of securing ribbons, one in yellow and the other in purple silk. Another hat preserved in Beijing also shares many of this hats features; all three hats are very similar to the hat worn in the official portrait of Kubilai Khan (1216-1294) now preserved in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. 

The present hat is in fact composed of seven different nasji textiles (referred to as Nasji A-G), which were conceivably produced in a Central Asian context or in a Chinese region by resident Central Asian silk weavers. 

Some support for this can be found in the bird and cloud design on a diamond-shaped grid on the largest piece (Nasji A), where the bird has a typically Central Asian style of falcons beak. The rest of the body is more similar to the ruan phoenix to be found in many Song dynasty kesi and embroideries; the layout of the clouds is also similar to that found on some examples of silk samite produced in China in the first half of the 10th century. 

Another large and well preserved fragment (Nasji B) has a grid of tear-shaped lozenges against a ground of floral scrolls. The scroll patterns are freely executed in design and are extremely beautiful, being similar to that scrolling found on two large pieces of nasji in the exhibition When Silk Was Gold. Other nasji textiles from this hat include a yin/yang (or taiji) design on a lozenge ground (Nasji E), rosettes on a ground of floral scrolling (Nasji C) and dragons. 

Rossi & Rossi. 16 Clifford Street London W1S 3RG United Kingdom. Tel: 020 7734 6487 - Fax: 020 7734 8051 - Email: