1850-1861 (made)


Length: 137 cm, Width: 209 cm, Length: 54 in centre back, Width: 82.25 in top of back and sleeves

T.173-1961 EAS

Women's robe of embroidered silk with silk and silver-gilt threads, China, 1850-1861

Women's embroidered robe jifu. Embroidery on red silk ground, with roundels of shou characters surrounded by floral and cloud motifs. Lined in light blue silk. Red silk embroidered with coloured silks and silver-gilt thread in satin, split, long and short, stem and Pekin knot stitches with couched work. Broad band of stripes round the hem with swirling waves above around the world mountain in the centre. Jewels and various lucky symbols including ruyi sceptre and swastika appear amongst the waves. The front of the robe is decorated with three roundels consisting of a shou characters surrounded by dragons, clouds, bats, peaches and lucky symbols. Three similar roundels on the back of the robe and one on the upper part of each sleeve. The neck has a border and the sleeves have bands and deep shaped cuffs of dark blue silk embroidered with shou characters, dragons, clouds, bats, peaches and lucky symbols, with a band of couched silver-gilt threads and an edging of blue silk with a pattern woven in gold threads. Lined with blue silk damask with a design of peonies, narcissus and other flowers. The robe opens at the front and is fastened by two round gilt metal buttons with dark blue silk loops.

This type of robe is called a jifu, an 'Auspicious' Robe. It functions as a type of formal court robe for a woman. The robe may have been intended to be worn by an Imperial Consort, perhaps even the Empress. In general, in the court system of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a more limited dress-code appeared to have been available for women ranking down from the Empress and Imperial Consorts to wives of officers of the Seventh rank. (Men had a range of court dress for specific occasions). Not all Imperial robes will be ornamented with the symbol of the dragon, as this one demonstrates. Even the Emperor's wives and concubines did not necessarily always wear robes decorated with dragons. However, most formal imperial attire will bear the signature motif of the multi-layered rocks emerging from a sea of many-coloured waters. Women also had sets of clothes made for auspicious celebrations such as weddings or the birthdays of older wearers, and the clothes made for these occasions were worn for future events of importance. There are two clues to the identity of the intended wearer of this robe: the shou characters embroidered on red silk suggests that this may have been made for an older woman on a festive occasion; however the shou character was also one of the emblems of the emperor himself, and in this case the longevity character could signal that the intended wearer may have been the Empress herself.

The wide cut and roomy sleeves joined to wide sleeve cuffs is a design feature which appeared during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor (1821-1850); but the design of the shou character belongs to the era of the Xianfeng Emperor (1850-1861), helping us to attribute this robe more precisely to the latter period. See "Artefacts from the Taiping Period (Taiping tiantuo chutu wenwu), Wenwu, May 1959 issue; and also Chen, Juanjuan, "Shou character ornamentation in Textile artefacts (Zhixiu wenwu zhong de shouzi zhuangshi), Palace Museum Journal, 2004 (March/April issue) pp.10-19.

Bequeathed by Lady Fox

Location: In Storage

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