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Lot 270. An exceptionally rare chestnut-ground 'dragon' chubha, Kangxi period (1662-1722); 184cm (72 1/2in) wide x 136cm (53 1/2in) long. Sold for £ 31,500 (€ 37,532) (Est: £30,000 - £50,000). © Bonhams 2001-2021

A complete bolt meticulously worked in bright silk satin stitch and couched gold threads with nine writhing, five-clawed dragons The elegant garment constructed in Tibet from Chinese Kangxi period Imperial chestnut silk brocades, finely worked in gold and multi-coloured threads, the design on the front and back dominated by a large and powerful side-facing four-clawed mang dragon clutching the flaming pearl amidst a dense ground of ruyi clouds and Shou medallions, all above the terrestrial diagram rising from rolling waves and ruyi lishui, with four further partial dragons on the sleeves, superimposed against a ground of interconnected clouds and small dragons, woven in gold and multi-coloured threads, all above a partial terrestrial diagram at the hem, the collar and inner flap decorated with panels depicting a continuous patterns of dragon roundels alternating with wispy clouds, the raised collar and border edged with dark and light fur pelts, blue brocade and gold thread creating an elegant design, the interior lined with patterned cotton.

Provenance: Linda Wrigglesworth, London
A distinguished Belgian private collection.

NoteFinely tailored from sumptuous Imperial chestnut-ground brocaded silks, the present garment is a brilliant and elegant adaptation of 17th century Chinese Imperial Court costume to formal Tibetan ceremonial attire.

The front and back of the garments would have made up the main body of an extremely rare Imperial woman's formal state robe, chaopao dating to the Kangxi period. This is visible by the L-shaped seam between the collar and the underarm, noted on the present lot. The same L-shaped seam between the collar and the underarm is one of the main features of chaopao garments, long dragon robes made of a single section from shoulder to hem, with separate sleeves which were inserted into the main body at the shoulders; the resultant seams were then covered with metallic brocade ribbon, which was used as neck, side and hem trim. A separate piling collar was an additional garment that rested on the shoulders. Epaluettes were once applied and then removed to obtain a simpler Tibetan-style closure. This tailoring combined the styles of the two layered garments worn by the Imperial female members of the Ming dynasty, namely a a long sleeved, full-length coat, chaopao, which would have been worn under a full-length sleeveless coat, gualan. Surviving material evidence suggests that probably by the time of the Qing conquests, the two garments had merged into a single coat though the full length court vests still appeared; see J.Vollmer, Ruling from the Dragon Throne. Costumes of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Berkeley, CA, 2002, p.69.

Chaopao robes dating to the Kangxi period and preserved in public collections are exceptionally rare, however, a velvet textile for a dragon robe, 17th century, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, depicts a very similar large four-clawed dragon clutching the flaming pearl, to the dragons brilliantly woven on the present robe, acc.no.1987.147, illustrated in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1985–2007. New York, 2008, p.36. See also a yellow-ground robe, Shunzi, embroidered with a single large side dragon clutching the flaming pearl, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures from the Palace Museum. Textiles and Embroideries of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Hong Kong, 2005, p.181, no.202. A Qing dynasty winter chaopao lined with brown fur and incorporating the styles of a long garment and a sleeveless coat, as the present example, from the 'Regulations of Imperial Paraphernalia of the Qing Dynasty' Huangchao Liqi Tushi, edited in 1759, is illustrated by J.Vollmer and J.Simcox, Emblems of the Empire. selections from the Mactaggart Art Collection, Edmonton, CA, 2009, p.13.

According to the 'Illustrated Regulations for the Ritual Paraphernalia of the Imperial Court' Huangchao Liqi Tushi 皇朝禮器圖式, edited in 1759, brown jinhuang, was considered one of the five shades of yellow that could only be worn by the closest family members to the Emperor, and Third and Fourth Degree Princes and their wives could wear brown robes decorated with four-clawed dragons, mang; see L.Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, London, 1990, p.174.

During the Qing dynasty, it became an established practice for the Court to send gifts of silks and garments to Tibet because of the strong attachment of the Manchu rulers to Tibetan Buddhism and the political relations. At this time, the Court produced richly-decorated silk costumes specifically for use in Buddhist rituals and bestowed large quantities of Imperial 'dragon' robes that became the customary formal dress for aristocratic Tibetans. The Tibetans traditionally wore robes featuring very long sleeves characterised by wider cuts and a simpler style of front overlap and fastening. The front part of the garment slanted from the neck to a fastening under the right arm.

The Tibetans created the chubha style robe by substituting the front underlap of the garment with another material, or by cutting off some of the deep wave border to extend the arms or widen the sleeves. The overall result conveyed a rather harmonious and eccentric effect obtained by combining different materials; see J.Simcox and J.Vollmer, Emblems of Empire: Selection from the Mactaggart Art Collection, Edmonton CA, 2009, pp.200-217.

Compare with a related 'dragon' robe, Kangxi, which was sold at Christie's London, 9 November 2010, lot 276.

Bonhams. Fine Chinese Art: Including Imperial and Court Textiles Curated by Linda Wrigglesworth, London, 2 november 2021