Lot 1382. An imperial yellow satin brocade robe, chuba, the brocade, 18th century. Estimate USD 20,000 - USD 30,000. Price realised USD 22,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2016
The side-closing chuba was tailored in Tibet from Chinese 18th century imperial yellow silk brocade, woven in gold and multi-colored threads with five-clawed dragons grasping flaming pearls and superimposed against a background of cloud clusters picked out in various shades of pink, blue, green and ochre, all above the terrestrial diagram at the hem. The collar and facing are fashioned from waves and dragons, 53 ¼ in. (135.2 cm.) long x 68 ½ in. (173.9 cm.) wide.
Provenance: Acquired in New York, April 2005.
Note: Interaction with Tibet, which began in the 10th century, underscores the complexities of China's diplomacy and trade. After the collapse of the Tang dynasty, Tibetans established a rival dynasty, the Xia, which controlled the Gansu corridor and trade with Central Asia and the West. Although Tibetan imperial ambitions were crushed by the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century, its leaders continued to enjoy special prominence, due to the strong attachment of the Mongol court to Tantric Buddhism. In the Ming dynasty, the court renewed the Yuan practice of bestowing gifts and titles on Tibetan religious leaders and of sanctioning trade in luxury goods. Religious power politics involving Tibet and Mongolia lasted into the 17th century and imperial patronage of Tibetan Buddhism continued throughout the Qing dynasty.
Tibet, which had no indigenous silk industry, looked to China to supply these luxuries for its aristocracy and high-ranking clergy. Although some silks were manufactured specifically for the Tibetan market, many of the textiles sent to Tibet had originally been produced for the Chinese court, such as the present robe. They were often drawn from textiles amassed by the imperial household and held in reserve for such purposes. Although highly prized, garments and furnishing fabrics were often re-cut to fit Tibetan costume styles or to serve new functions, which were often at variance with their original decorative schemes and symbolic meanings.
The interest in Chinese silk luxuries also traveled beyond Tibet to India. In the painting by Nainsukh titled Balwant Singh Smoking, Wearing a Chinese Robe, c. 1745-50, illustrated by B.N. Goswamy, Nainsukh of Guler, Zurich, 1997, pp. 132-33, Balwant Singh is shown seated on a throne wearing a Chinese yellow-ground dragon robe. In the painting, the robe appears to be re-cut to adhere to the common Hindu attire, which included trousers. The author suggests that this costume was given to Balwant Singh by a trader. The depiction of a member of the Hindu aristocracy wearing a yellow-ground Chinese robe shows how highly-prized such robes were outside of China.
Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art part I, 17 - 18 March 2016, New York