Superbly worked in gauze with couched gold thread and satin stitch on the front and back with nine five-clawed dragons and shou medallions, amidst dense stylized clouds interspersed with bats confronting double peaches, auspicious characters and the twelve imperial symbols above the terrestrial diagram with lishui stripe at the hem, all picked out in shades of blue, green, purple, red, and ochre, and reserved on an Imperial yellow ground. With a black-ground dragon border at the collar, cuffs and mid-sleeves, and a second narrow band of stylized wan diapered design on black ground. The lack of a front and back vent and the inclusion of sleeve extensions identify this as a woman's robe.
Provenance: The Property of a Gentleman. Christie’s New York, 21-22 September 1995, lot 517. An important American collection of Chinese robes, acquired from the above. To the side, a Christie’s label, ’22 Sep 95 Sale 8220 Lot 517.’ Note that according to Christies “it appears that the Empress Dowager used all Twelve Symbols” (on her robes) “when she ruled during the minority of her son” (see the corresponding auction catalog entry from 1995).
Condition: The present robe is likely the finest example of an Imperial twelve-symbol robe that exists. It is exceptionally well-preserved and remains in superb condition overall. There are only minimal signs of wear, with very few loose threads present. There are no stains, spots, or soiling, and the robe has not suffered any material loss whatsoever. The colors of the robe are remarkably vibrant and sharp. It is important to note that this particular robe has never been exposed to sunlight or displayed. It may have been worn on one or two occasions, but certainly not more frequently. In general, the discovery of a robe in such pristine condition is an exceptionally rare occurrence.
Dimensions: Length 129 cm, Width 183 cm (across sleeves)
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Very few robes have been attributed to Empress Dowager Cixi, and notably, none of them have been found in gauze fabric, let alone in mint condition. The remarkable absence of any signs of wear on this robe is a testament to its impeccable storage and care over the past 150 years. Unlike most Qing Dynasty robes discovered today, which have not been preserved across multiple generations in such a meticulous manner, this robe's pristine state suggests that the person who originally brought it from China to the West was fully aware of its historical significance.
Moreover, it is likely that this individual acquired knowledge of the robe's importance from a trusted and credible source. Considering the tumultuous period of the Boxer Rebellion in 1906 when the robe probably left the Forbidden City in Beijing, reliable sources were rare. Therefore, it seems probable that the robe was initially obtained either from someone in close proximity to the Empress Dowager or directly from Cixi herself. In either case, this person would have imparted the robe's exceptional significance to the subsequent owner, ensuring the passage of this valuable information from one generation to the next.
As a result, the present robe has consistently been safeguarded under a stringent and comprehensive regime throughout its whole journey, which elucidates its enduring pristine condition until the present day. The continued responsibility and preservation of a robe of this importance, thus, becomes an important duty for its future keepers.
Imperial clothes were designed to indicate rank and status, becoming so distinct that the wearer’s position in court could be ascertained at a glance. Yellow was considered to be the most auspicious shade, and was reserved for the royal family. Minor princes or noblemen were permitted to wear blue (the Qing dynasty’s official color) or brown, while blue-black fabric indicated the wearer was a court official. Emperor’s robes were decorated with the ‘Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority’: the sun, moon, seven-star constellation, mountain, fu pattern, axe head, dragon, flowery creature, seaweed, sacrificial cup, flames and the grain. Civil and military officials were divided into nine ranks, from first (highest) to ninth (lowest). Each was indicated by a corresponding animal, stitched on to a rank badge, or bufu, displayed on an outer coat. Civil ranks were represented by birds, while real and mythical animals indicated military status.
The Twelve 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, notably the sun, moon, stars, and mountain, were placed at the shoulders, chest and mid-back. The symbol of distinction, notably the axe, rule, paired dragons, and golden pheasant appeared at waist level. The temple-cups, aquatic grass, grains of millet, and flames were placed at knee level on the skirts of the coat.
By edict, the twelve symbols of Imperial authority were reserved for the Emperor in the Huangchao Liqi Tushi (Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphenalia of the Qing dynasty) published in 1766. This can be further ascertained from the absence of the symbols from the design of the court robes of the empress and even the crown prince. No other rank of noble was permitted to use all or any of the Twelve Symbols. Nevertheless, the emperor could, if he so wished, confer the right to use even this highest distinction as a mark of favor. In European and American collections, both public and private, there are a number of Qing court robes, in various colors and tailored for both men and women which bear 12, 8, 4, or even 2 of the Twelve Symbols. Most of these robes date from the second half of the nineteenth century. Those that have all Twelve Symbols and were made for women usually have a yellow ground. It seems most likely that these were worn by an empress or Empress Dowager and there is significant evidence to support this view. We know, for example, that the Empress Dowager Xiaoho, a widow of the Jiaqing Emperor, wore dragon robes with at least three of the four highest symbols.
The Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) used all Twelve Symbols on her Imperial yellow robes when she ruled during the minority of her son, and possibly again toward the very end of her life, in the early 1900s. The reign of her son, the Tongzhi Emperor (1856-1875), effectively lasted through his adolescence, from 1861-1875, and was largely overshadowed by the rule of his mother. Tongzhi himself had rather little influence over state affairs, a fact that today may be regarded as a possible reason why his mother chose to wear robes that originally were meant to be worn exclusively by the Emperor. Photographs of Empress Dowager Cixi, wearing what is probably a Twelve Symbol dragon robe, have survived to support this theory and now reside in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington. The Constellation, Sun and Moon are clearly visible on this robe, and the Sacrificial Vessels and Water Plant can be glimpsed above the water motifs at the bottom.
The discovery of “Lauth’s Purple” by Charles Lauth in 1861 led to the use of purple dye worldwide and was introduced in China during Empress Cixi’s rule around 1862. This quite characteristic and vibrant hue was especially favored by the Empress Dowager and employed in many parts of her attire at the time of her reign during the minority of her son, as can be seen in the present robe’s flawlessly woven seven shaded lishui band, which includes this specific and distinct purple tone. The dragons on the present robe are worked in gold-wrapped threads, with clouds primarily in shades of blue against a yellow ground. Yellow was considered to be the most auspicious shade and was reserved for the Imperial family.
In Chinese numerology, 12 is an important number. During the Qing period, the Chinese recognized the 12 signs of the zodiac although they were named differently from those of the West. The Twelve Symbols were associated with the principal annual sacrifices offered by the emperor on behalf of the people at the great Imperial altars. These ritual events were linked with the four major astronomical events in the year, the solstices and equinoxes. Scholars have long believed that the Twelve Symbols may originally have had an astronomical significance.
Compare to a closely related embroidered satin robe in a London collection with a predominant blue and yellow schema for an emperor's twelve-symbol 'dragon' robe, dated to the late 18th century, in G. Dickinson and L. Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, London, 1990, p. 32-33, pl. 23. Also compare a photograph of Empress Dowager Cixi reproduced in the same monograph, pp. 93, pl. 75. Also compare to a closely related robe, dated to the nineteenth century, in J. E. Vollmer, Decoding Dragons: Status Garments in Ch'ing dynasty China, Eugene, Oregon, Museum of Art, 1983. pp. 143 and 209. Compare a closely related yellow-ground Manchu Empress’s semiformal twelve symbol court robe (chi-fu) in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, dated 1821-1850, length 146.5 cm, accession number 42.8.61, illustrated in Imperial Silks, Ch'ing Dynasty Textiles in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Volume I, Robert D. Jacobsen, 2000, pp. 107. Also compare a closely related woman’s dragon robe with twelve Imperial symbols, dated to the mid-19th century, in the Santa Barbara Museum of Arts, object number 1984.53.31.
Auction result comparison:
Type: Closely related
Auction: Bonhams London, 5 November 2020, lot 115
Price: GBP 112,562 or approx. EUR 167,000 converted and adjusted for inflation at the time of writing
Description: A rare Imperial embroidered yellow-ground Twelve-Symbol dragon robe, jifu, 19th century
Expert remark: Note that according to Bonhams this robe measures only 149 cm, compared to the present robe which measures 183 cm across sleeves.
Auction result comparison:
Type: Closely related
Auction: Christie's London, 18 May 2012, lot 1255
Price: GBP 139,250 or approx. EUR 257,750 converted and adjusted for inflation at the time of writing
Description: An Emperor's Twelve Symbol Formal Court Robe (Chifu), Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), End of 19th, Beginning of 20th Century
Expert remark: Note that according to Christies the body of this robe has been later relined in yellow silk, and the buttons and loops have been replaced in the 20th century.
Auction result comparison:
Type: Closely related
Auction: Christie’s New York, 22 March 2019, lot 1656
Price: USD 125,000 or approx. EUR 137,000 converted and adjusted for inflation at the time of writing
Description: An imperial yellow Kesi Twelve Symbol ‘dragon robe,’ Longpao, Guangxu period (1875-1908)
Expert remark: Note that according to Christies, the brocade borders of the cuffs on this robe are likely a later replacement, and that there are a few areas of expected minor splitting of the weave, and some faint areas of staining at the lishui stripe.
Lot Essay II:
The Twelve Symbols of the Imperial Robe, each shown in full detail and with their individual location on the present robe determined.
On the left shoulder:
- The Sun, depicted as a three-legged cockerel against a red disc.
On the right shoulder:
- The Moon, depicted as the white hare pounding the elixir of life.
On the nape of the neck:
- The Rock, depicted at the nape of the neck probably represents the element earth.
To the breast, center:
- The Constellation, represented by three dots joined by blue lines.
Front view of the robe:
- The Rule/Law, fu, depicted as two opposing blue lines.
- The Axe-head was traditionally an emblem of sovereignty and the emperor’s power over the life and death of his subjects.
- The Water Plant traditionally represented purity.
- The Sacrificial Vessels depicting two strange tiger-like animals. The tiger was associated with the metal element and the west.
Back view of the robe:
- The Dragon, represented as a pair of tiny dragons, once ascending and one descending.
- The Flowery Creature, depicted as a mythical golden pheasant.
- The Fire, the flames representing the fire element.
- The Grain, depicted as a dish containing 30 grains of millet, traditionally the first cereal crop raised in China.
点此阅读中文翻译 (Chinese Translation)
來源：一位紳士的財產；紐約佳士得1995年9月21-22日，lot 517；一個美國重要中國禮服收藏，購於上述拍賣。可見佳士得標籤“22 Sep 95 Sale 8220 Lot 517.” 根據佳士得 “it appears that the Empress Dowager used all Twelve Symbols” (on her robes) “when she ruled during the minority of her son” (見1995年拍賣目錄).
尺寸：長 129 釐米，寬183 釐米 (兩袖之間)
很少有一件長袍能被認定為是屬於慈禧太后的。值得注意的是，沒有一件長袍是紗布材質的，更不用說完好無損了。這件長袍沒有任何磨損跡象，證明瞭它在過去 150 年裡的存放和保養都無可挑剔。與今天發現的大多數清代長袍不同，這些長袍沒有經過多代人的精心保存，這件長袍的原始狀態表明最初將其從中國帶到西方的人完全意識到它的歷史意義。
此外，這個人很可能是從可信的來源獲得了關於長袍重要性的知識。考慮到 1906 年義和團運動時期，袍子很可能離開了北京紫禁城。因此，這件袍子最初很可能是從太後身邊的人那裡得到的，或者是直接從慈禧本人那裡得到的。無論哪種情況，這個人都會將長袍的特殊意義傳承給後來的主人，確保這一有價值的資訊代代相傳。
Charles Lauth於 1861 年發現“勞斯紫”，使紫色染料在全球得以推廣，並於 1862 年慈禧太后統治時期引入中國。這種頗具特色且充滿活力的顔色特別受到太后的青睞，並在許多地方使用。這件龍袍七色麗水帶中就可以看出，其中包括這種特殊而獨特的紫色色調。本件長袍上的龍是用金線包裹的，祥雲主要是藍色的，背景是黃色的。
在中國命理學中，十二是一個重要的數字。 在清朝時期，中國人有十二生肖，儘管它們的名稱與西方不同。 十二章紋與皇帝祭祀有關。 這些儀式活動與一年中的冬至日和春分有關。學者們一直認為十二符號最初可能具有天文意義。
比較一件相近的十八世紀藍黃色地十二章紋龍袍，見G. Dickinson 和 L. Wrigglesworth，《Imperial Wardrobe》，1990年，頁32-33，圖 23。還可以比較同一專著中轉載的慈禧太后的照片，頁93，圖 75。比較另一件十九世紀的長袍，見J.E. Vollmer，《Decoding Dragons: Status Garments in Ch'ing Dynasty China》，俄勒岡州尤金藝術博物館，1983 年，頁143和209。比較一件非常相近的1821-1850 年黃地滿族皇后的半正式十二章紋宮廷吉服，收藏於明尼亞波利斯藝術博物館，長146.5 厘米，收藏編號42.8.61，見《Imperial Silks，Ch'ing Dynasty Textiles in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts》，第一卷，Robert D. Jacobsen，2000 年，頁107。比較一件非常相近的十九世紀中期十二章紋女性吉服，收藏於聖巴巴拉藝術博物館，館藏編號 1984.53.31。
價格：GBP 112,562（相當於今日EUR 167,000）
價格：GBP 139,250（相當於今日EUR 257,750 ）
價格：USD 125,000（相當於今日EUR 137,000）
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