A rare imperial kesi twelve-symbol dragon robe probably made for the Dowager Empress, mangpao, 19th century

Lot 941. A rare imperial kesi twelve-symbol dragon robe probably made for the Dowager Empress, mangpao, 19th century; 89 ½ x 55 ½ in. (227.3 x 140.9 cm.). Estimate USD 50,000 - USD 70,000Price realised USD 87,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2017 

The robe is finely woven in shades of blue, red, ochre, pale violet and gold on the front and back, with nine five-clawed dragons pursuing flaming pearls amidst clusters of clouds interspersed with bats holding beribonedwan emblems and peaches, shou characters, the eight Buddhist emblems, auspicious motifs and the twelve symbols of imperial authority, all reserved on an imperial yellow ground above the terrestrial diagram withlishui stripe at the hem, with dark blue-ground cuffs, collar and sleeve bands decorated with further dragons and clouds.

ProvenanceTeresa Coleman, Hong Kong, mid-1990s.

Note: The Twelve Ancient Symbols of Imperial Authority first appeared on the Manchu emperor's clothing after 1759. These symbols were superimposed on the general decorative schema of Qing court garments, losing the visual prominence they had enjoyed during the Ming dynasty. Nonetheless, they emphatically demonstrated the Qing intention of embracing the traditional role as rulers of the Chinese empire. Under the Qing, the first four symbols--sun, moon, stars, and mountain--were placed at the shoulders, chest and mid-back. The symbol of distinction (fu), hatchet, paired dragons, and the golden pheasant appeared at waist level. Temple-cups, aquatic grass, grains of millet, and flames were placed at knee level on the skirts of the coat. 

The present robe would likely have been made for Cixi (1835-1908), the Dowager Empress of the Qing dynasty. The empress was permitted to wear the yellow twelve-symbol dragon robe at celebrations, sacrificial rites, and important ceremonies, and it served as a symbol of her power. 

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 14 - 15 September 2017, New York