An imperial apricot-ground twelve-symbol dragon robe,jifu, Guangxu period (1875-1908)

Lot 2271. An imperial apricot-ground twelve-symbol dragon robe, jifu, Guangxu period (1875-1908); 87 5/8 in. (225 cm.) wide. Estimate HKD 800,000 - HKD 1,200,000Price realised HKD 980,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2012

The robe is finely worked in satin stitches in shades of blue, green, red, aubergine and ochre and couched vibrant gold threads with nine five-clawed dragons clutching or confronting 'flaming pearls' amidst dense ruyiclouds interspersed with bats. The twelve Imperial symbols are arranged in three groups of four beginning with the sun, moon, constellation and mountains around the neck; the axe head, fu symbol, paired dragons and pheasant around the upper body of the robe; and the water weed, pair of sacrificial vessels, fire and grain above the terrestrial diagram and lishuistripe at the hem, all interspersed with the Eight Buddhist Emblems in pairs on both the front and back against an apricot ground. The matching dark blue-ground cuffs and collar are worked with further dragons amidst bats, clouds and waves, below sleeve extensions enriched with gold stripes with a black lining.

ProvenanceA European private collection since the early 20th century, by repute.

Note: It is very rare to find a jifu embroidered with the twelve symbols of Imperial authority, reserved exclusively for the emperor, but on an apricot ground, the colour designated to the heir apparent. This suggests the current robe dates to the late Qing period, when Imperial control declined and dress regulation in the Imperial court became less strict. It is also characteristic of robes from the nineteenth century when Imperial imagery became less significant while other auspicious decorative elements like the Eight Buddhist Emblems became popular. See Valery M. Garrett, Chinese Clothing: An Illustrated Guide, Hong Kong, 1994, p. 40.

Compare to an earlier apricot-ground jifu dated to the Jiaqing period but without the twelve Imperial symbols, illustrated in Heavenly Splendour: The Edrina Collection of Ming and Qing Imperial Costumes, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 28; another similar example, also without the twelve symbols and dated to the Tongzhi period, ibid, pl. 30. 

Christie'sImportant Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 28 November 2012, Hong Kong