Lot 3345. A very rare Imperial chestnut embroidered gauze Dragon robe, mangpao, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 56 in. (142.2 cm.) long x 82 in. (208.3 cm.) wide. Estimate HK$1,500,000 - HK$2,000,000 ($194,359 - $259,145). Price Realized HK$1,600,000 ($207,268). © Christie's Image Ltd 2014
The reddish-brown gauze ground is finely worked in couched gold threads and counted stitch with nine five-clawed dragons on the front and back panels, and one on the underflap, the dragons chasing flaming pearls amidst a ground of multi-coloured clouds interspersed with bats and the Eight Buddhist Emblems, above a hem of cresting waves tossed with auspicious objects, and the lishui stripe, with matching dark brown borders at the collar and cuffs further embellished with striding dragons and related motifs, and midnight-blue ribbed sleeve extensions.
Provenance: John Riis, Atlanta, Georgia
Imperial Resplendence - an introduction to Qing Imperial textiles from the collection of an American gentleman
By Zong Fengying
The Qing textiles from the collection of an American gentleman offered at Christie's Hong Kong this season involve two types of attire from the Qing dynasty: formal court robes (chaopao and bugua), and jifu (pao and gua). This introduction will examine the different regulations concerning these types of robes.
I.Regulations of chaopao and bugua
Chaopao, or court robes, were robes worn by the Qing Emperors, Princes, nobility and officials during court audiences and sacrificial ceremonies. During the Qing dynasty, the Emperor was the sole figure who had robes specifically made for sacrificial ceremonies; all other personnel wore the same type of robes for both occasions. The various regulations regarding chaopao corresponded to the different levels of hierarchy to which the wearers belonged.
A.Regulation of Chaopao for the Emperor
According to Da Qing Hui Dian [Collected Statutes of the Great Qing], the Emperor wears chaopao when he holds festive rituals and sacrificial rituals, while sacrificial robes, or j?fu are especially designed for the Emperor just for sacrificial rituals.
1.Regulations of chaopao and sacrificial robes for the Emperor
Chaopao and j?fu are characterized by a round collar, horseshoe-shaped cuffs, projecting epaulets, narrow sleeves, front right overlap, and a two-part construction. According to Da Qing Hui Dian, the Emperor's chaopao are decorated with dragons as the insignia, and are made in two styles for winter and one style for summer.
The regulation for the first style of winter chaopao is as follows: the epaulets and the robe are faced with sable fur of black colour, and the cuffs faced with sable fur of yellowish-black colour. The upper half is decorated with a quatrefoil-shaped medallion enclosing dragons above the pleated skirt sans waistband. Ten gold five-clawed dragons are woven or embroidered on the robe: four front-facing at the shoulders, chest and back interspersed with the Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority, and six in profile across the plated skirt amidst multi-coloured bats and clouds. The Emperor wears this first type of winter chaopao for festive ceremonies and sacrificial rituals taken place between the first day of the eleventh lunar month and the fifteenth day of the first lunar month in the succeeding year.
The regulation for the second style is as follows: the epaulets and sleeves are in azurite-blue. The robe is bordered with a band of gold-wrapped thread edged with otter's fur. The upper half is decorated with a quatrefoil-shaped medallion containing dragons, above a waist band and a pleated skirt. The robe is woven or embroidered with thirty-eight dragons, nine are front-facing, eleven are in profile, and eighteen are in profile enclosed in roundels. There is a front-facing dragon to the front, back and top of each shoulder; five dragons in profile to the waistband; one front-facing dragon to the square panel below the waistband (ren); nine dragon roundels to the front and another nine to the back of the upper pleated skirt; two front-facing dragons and four dragons in profile to the lower section of the pleated skirt (shang); two dragons in profile on epaulets; one front-facing dragon to each cuff. The robe is embellished with the Twelve Imperial Symbols, with eight of the symbols comprising of the sun, the moon, the two constellations representing heaven and earth, the mountain, the dragons, the pheasant, the fu symbol, and the axe on the upper body, and the remaining four symbols consisting libation cups, aquatic grass, fire and grains on the lower half of the pleated skirt above the terrestrial diagram. All are interspersed with multi-coloured bats and clouds. The Emperor wears the second type of winter chaopao for festive ceremonies and sacrificial rituals in autumn and winter before the first day of the eleventh lunar month and after the fifteenth day of the first lunar month in the succeeding year. It comes in three colours: bright yellow, red, and blue. The bright yellow winter chaopao is for when the Emperor presides over ceremonies held at Taihe Dian [Hall of Great Harmony] on New Year's Day, Winter Solstice, and his birthday; the blue winter chaopao for offering prayers for good harvest at the Altar of Heaven in the first lunar month; the red winter chaopao for offering prayers at the Altar of Sun at dawn on Spring Equinox. The colours of the robes are associated with the objects being worshiped, which is meant to enable the Emperor to interact with the Gods and Spirits more effectively.
According to the regulations stipulated in Da Qing Hui Dian, the Emperor wears summer chaopao for festive ceremonies and sacrificial rituals held during spring and summer. There is only one style of summer chaopao for the Emperor (lot 3349), which has projecting epaulets and sleeves in azurite-blue, bordered with couched gold thread. The style and design are essentially the same as that of the second style of winter chaopao. An extremely rare imperial azurite-blue embroidered silk chaopao included in this sale from the early Qianlong period appears to be a summer chaopao for the Emperor (lot 3349). The design on this robe corresponds to that specified in Da Qing Hui Dian for an Emperor's summer robe with the only difference being the absence of the Twelve Imperial Symbols, which may be attributed to the fact that the regulations for court costumes were not fully established until after the mid-Qianlong period. The current chaopao has a blue satin ground, on which gold- thread and silk floss in more than ten different colours of red, blue, yellow, green and white tones rendered in two to three shades are embroidered. More than ten different embroidery techniques have been employed, including plain stitch, interlocking stitch, layered stitch, scale stitch, padded appliques, rolling stitch, connected stitch, feather stitch, plain stitch in diagonal direction, and couched gold thread. The embroidery is exquisite and the colours are diverse and vibrant. This is especially evident on the scales of the dragons achieved using scale stitch, the eyes of the dragons highlighted by padded appliques, and the peony leaves that have been embroidered using feather stitch, imbuing a three-dimensional quality to the design.
The Emperor's summer chaopao comes in three colours: bright yellow, blue and pale blue. The summer bright yellow chaopao is for festive rituals; the summer pale blue chaopao for offering sacrifices at the Altar of the Moon between five to seven o'clock in the afternoon on the day of Autumn Equinox; and the summer blue chaopao for changyuli, or praying for rain and a good year of harvest in the fourth lunar month at the Circular Mound Altar. The current blue embroidered silk chaopao is an Emperor's summer chaopao for changyuli.
2.Regulation of bufu for the Emperor
According to Da Qing Hui Dian, the Emperor's bufu has an azurite-blue ground and is made in an array of different materials including plain-woven silk, satin-woven silk, gauze, and kesi, on which dragons are woven or embroidered. It is also known as gunfu (amongst several meanings it has come to represent, gun is mostly associated with the meaning of a robe decorated with dragons made for the Emperor) or bugun (bu means to amend, complement) for it is believed to help relieve the Emperor of his shortcomings. The Emperor's bufu is decorated with four roundels each enclosing a gold five-clawed dragon, one on top of each shoulder, with the left containing the symbol of the Sun, the right containing the symbol of the Moon, and one to the front containing the symbol of the two constellations, and another one to the back with the symbol of the mountain.
3.Regulation of bufu for sons of the Emperor, Princes of First rank and their heir apparent
The bufu for sons of the Emperor, according to Da Qing Hui Dian, is also azurite-blue in colour and is made in several different materials including plain-woven silk, satin-woven silk, gauze and kesi. It is decorated with four roundels each enclosing a gold front-facing five-clawed dragon amidst multi-coloured clouds and bats, located at the chest, back and shoulders. The bufu for Princes of First rank and their heir apparent has a very similar design except that the dragons on the shoulders are in profile. A rare and dark blue silk summer gauze bufu of late Qing period included in this sale belongs to this category (lot 3351). It is woven in gold and silver thread with four roundels of five-clawed dragons amidst lotus sprays, with the scales of the dragons picked out by scale stitch, conveying a sense of liveliness and splendour. This bufu is used as a surcoat over chaopao for festive and sacrificial rituals held during spring, summer and early autumn, or it could be worn by itself.
4.Regulations of bufu for civil and military officials
The bufu for civil and military officials are decorated with two square badges, one to the front and one to the back. According to Da Qing Hui Dian, civil officials wear badges displaying birds, while military officials wear badges displaying ferocious animals. Both are shown amidst multi-coloured clouds. The type of animal depicted in the badge reflects the rank of the wearer. For civil officials, the rules are as follows: crane for first rank; golden pheasant for second rank; peacock for third rank; goose for fourth rank; silver pheasant for fifth rank; egret for sixth rank; mandarin duck for seventh rank; quail for eighth rank; paradise flycatcher for ninth rank and below. An extremely rare embroidered woman's court vest, chaogua, included in this sale likely belonged to the wife of a ninth-rank civil official (lot 3352). The badge depicting flycatcher represents the rank of her husband, while the four-clawed mang dragons beneath the badge indicate her hereditary title, which in this case could have been junjun (Lady of a Commander), xianjun (Lady of a County) or xiangjun (Lady of a Township). This court vest is embroidered with gold-wrapped thread and silk floss in more than ten different colours in tones of red, blue, yellow, green and white. Various techniques have been employed including plain stitch, layered stitch, interlocking stitch, rolling stitch, scale stitch for delineating the scales of the mang dragons, feather stitch, Peking knot used to emphasize the eyes of the bats, connected stitch, padded appliques used to render the eyes of the mang dragons, and couched gold thread to achieve a more textured and three-dimensional visual impact. The result is a highly realistic depiction making this a true masterpiece among known examples.
II.Regulations of jifupao and jifugua
A.Jifupao is worn by the Emperor, all members of the imperial family, as well as officials and their wives for festive occasions including banquets, Winter Solstice, first day of the New Year, birthdays, some sacrificial rituals and military affairs.
1.Regulation of jifupao for the Emperor
The jifupao of an Emperor has dragons as the insignia, and thus are also known as longpao, or dragon robes. They are characterised by a round collar, horseshoe-shaped cuffs, right-buttoned front, narrow sleeves, front and back slits as well as side slits. There is only one style of jifupao for the Emperor.
According to Da Qing Hui Dian, the Emperor's jifupao is bright yellow, and is decorated with sixteen five-clawed dragons in gold or blue, eight front-facing and eight in profile. The front-facing dragons are at the shoulders, chest, back, front and back of collar, cuffs; profile dragons are at the lower half of the robe, underflap, left, right and right front collar. They are interspersed with the Twelve Imperial Symbols, bats, and clusters of clouds above lishui stripes at hem. The ground of the collar and sleeves are in azurite-blue, with gold thread border. The bright yellow kesi dragon robe of Guangxu period included in this sale was a jifupao for the Emperor (lot 3347). It is woven in gold-wrapped thread and silk floss of more than ten different colours in red, blue, yellow, green and white tones, employing various kesi techniques including flat weft, woven gold, knot weave, scale technique, pierced weave, voided weave and a technique for achieving a gradual colour change involving two to three different tones. The variety of techniques employed demonstrate the remarkably dexterous skills of the weavers, which are particularly noticeable in the finely textured scales of the dragons and the multi-coloured clouds. Such mastery of these techniques make this an exemplary longpao of the Guangxu period.
2.Regulation of jifupao for sons of the Emperor, Princes, civil and military officials
The colour of jifupao for sons of the Emperor is golden yellow, while for Princes of First rank, their heir apparent, and Princes of Second rank, it is blue, azurite-blue or any other colour except for golden yellow, unless conferred. The jifupao of the male members of the imperial family have front and back, and side slit openings, while the jifupao for civil and military officials have only the slit openings in the front and back. The design of the robe is the same for summer and winter, though the layering differs according to the season from single-layer, double-layers, double-layers padded with cotton, to a fur coat.
The Qianlong-period blue kesi mangpao with gold dragons included in this sale (lot 3353), was a jifupao made for a first-rank prince, his heir apparent, or a second-rank prince according to the regulation described in Da Qing Hui Dian. It is woven in gold-wrapped thread and floss thread in more than ten different colours in tones of red, blue, yellow, green and white. The various kesi techniques employed on this robe include flat weft, woven gold, scale technique, knot weave, pierced weave, the technique for gradual colour change involving two to three different tones, and voided weave. The superb quality of kesi demonstrated on this robe is particularly visible in the scales of the mang dragons; the multi-coloured clouds rendered with a knot weave; the peaches and leaves achieved by a pierced weave; and the mane of the dragons achieved by using the technique for gradual colour change. These techniques create a strong visual impact full of life and energy, making this an exceptionally fine example among the kesi mangpao of Qianlong period.
Another blue kesi mangpao with gold dragons included in this sale is from Jiaqing period (lot 3346), and was made for a first-rank prince, his heir apparent, or a second-rank prince. It has a blue ground decorated with sixteen five-clawed mang dragons, eight front-facing and eight in profile. The quality of kesi on this robe is extremely high, where thread in gold and silver have been exquisitely woven to create a strong contrast with the blue ground, imbuing much energy to the dragons and enlivening the overall design. The resulting visual impact is undoubtedly imperial. The entire design has been meticulously woven in kesi, without any enhancement through painted colour, conveying a sense of opulence and splendour associated only with the imperial court and establishing this robe as one of the finest examples among kesi mangpao of the Jiaqing period.
An embroidered gauze mangpao from the Qianlong period included in this sale was made for a first-rank prince, his heir apparent or a second-rank prince (lot 3345). It is decorated with sixteen gold five-clawed dragons on a jiang-colour ground. Eight dragons are front-facing, located at shoulders, chest, back, front and back of collar; eight are in profile, located at lower half of the robe, underflap, left, right and front right of collar, interspersed with clouds, bats, cranes and precious objects above the terrestrial diagram and lishui border. The jiang-colour ground of this robe is embroidered with couched gold thread and floss thread in ten different colours of five tones including red, blue, yellow, green and white, creating an image rich in both colour and texture. The well-balanced visual effect of the design seems both effortlessly rendered and suggestive of the harmonious balance between the energy and serenity found in nature. The achievement of this balance situates this as one of the best kesi mangpao of the Qianlong period.
Another blue-ground mangpao included in this sale is a jifupao from the Guangxu period made for a first-rank prince, his heir apparent or a second-rank prince (lot 3348). The blue robe is decorated with sixteen gold five-clawed mang dragons, eight front-facing and eight in profile. This blue silk robe is embroidered using gold-wrapped thread and floss thread in more than ten different colours of red, blue, yellow, green and white tones, involving various techniques such as plain stitch, couched gold thread, scale stitch, layered stitch, interlocking stitch, rolling stitch, padded applique and the technique for rendering gradual colour change in two to three different tones.
3.Regulation of jifugua for Empress, consorts, fujin 'Manchu noblewomen' and mingfu 'accredited wives'
According to Da Qing Hui Dian, jifugua of an Empress, consorts, fujin, and mingfu is a surcoat featuring round collar, centre opening, flat and narrow sleeves worn during festive occasions including banquets, Winter Solstice, first day of the New Year, some sacrificial rituals and military affairs. Two styles of jifugua exist for the Empress Dowager and the Empress, but only one style is prescribed for the others. The former is decorated with dragons, thus is also known as longgua, and the latter is called bugua. The first style of jifugua is decorated with eight gold five-clawed dragon medallions: a front-facing dragon medallion to the chest, back and shoulders; four profile dragon medallions to the lower half of the coat; two profile dragons in the front and two on the back above precious objects rising from lishui border; and two further profile dragons on each cuff.
The second style of jifugua is identical to the first minus the decoration on the cuffs and hem. The design on the midnight-blue jifugua of Qianlong period in this sale (lot 3350) is nearly identical to the first style of jifugua prescribed for an Empress Dowager or an Empress except for the lack of decoration on the cuffs. This robe is embroidered in gold thread and floss thread in more than sixteen colours including red, pinkish-red, pink, white, green, pale green, willow green, sapphire blue, pale blue, aquamarine, turmeric, yellow, pale yellow and black, using more than ten different kinds of techniques such as couched gold thread, plain stitch, layered stitch, interlocking stitch for waves, rolling stitch for outlining dragons' eyes, connected stitch, black padded applique for the dragons' eyes, Peking knot for the qing, and scale stitch. Through the mastery of these techniques using many different colours, the design of this robe takes on a highly realistic, almost lifelike quality. This is an exceptionally rare masterpiece among jifugua for an Empress Dowager or an Empress of Qianlong period.
Jifugua for the Empress Dowager down to mingfu of the seventh-rank has four types of different layering according to seasons: in spring, double-layered jifugua made of satin or kesi are worn; single-layered jifugua made of gauze are worn in summer; double-layered cotton-padded jifugua made of satin or kesi are worn in autumn; fur coats are worn in winter.
Note: In summer, the Manchu rulers and nobility traded their heavy satin robes for lighter garments made of silk gauze to allow for better ventilation. The gossamer quality of the material, coupled with the rich chestnut colour on this robe, provide a perfect foundation for gold couching and embroidery carried out in multi-coloured thread, creating a strong visual contrast and three-dimensional effect.
Dragon robes were also called huayi, 'ornate dress', or caifu, 'colourful dress', suggesting that they came in different colours and decorations to suit different festive occasions as well as the taste and personal preference of the wearer. The colour of this robe is known as jiang in Chinese, which is written in two characters interchangeably meaning either 'dark red' or 'sauce'. It was a popular choice of colour for robes during the Qianlong period, and was particularly favoured by the Emperor himself.
Christie's. The Imperial Sale / Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 28 May 2014