Imperial Manchu man’s semiformal court robe with twelve symbols of sovereignty, 1850-1875. Woven silk and metal thread tapestry. length: 53 in, 134.62 cm; width: 84 in, 213.36 cm. Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of James P. Grant & Betty Grant Austin, 1977.196 © Denver Art Museum
This bright yellow robe and the auspicious and symbolic images on it are finely woven in tapestry (kesi or ko'ssu) using silk and metal thread. Only members of the imperial family could wear robes of this color. The individual parts of the robe were woven to shape, cut out from a length of fabric, and assembled. In 1759, the emperor added the twelve Chinese symbols of ancient imperial authority to his Manchu court robes, acknowledging the importance of the two-millennium-old images. Related to the sacral duties of the Son of Heaven, the twelve symbols also represent the emperor’s wide-reaching power and Confucian values associated with a worthy ruler. Other auspicious symbols on the robe--the round red wanshou, the swastika-fret pattern and bats--wish great longevity and happiness. The red double-joy symbol, often found on wedding garments, is unusual on an official robe.