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Qing Dynasty Court Robe

Curated Submission
Late 19th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
121 x 64
Materials & techniques
Silk, gold; Needlework, couching, goldwork
Gift of Edna Sutherland
Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library 63.00
This opulent silk robe is almost entirely covered with designs in couched gold thread. This type of Chinese court robe, sometimes called a Dragon Robe, was worn during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) by court officials and members of the Imperial family on formal occasions. The symbolism on this type of robe is extensive, and sumptuary laws of that time ensured that the wearer’s social status could be determined at a glance. Not only is the colour significant, but also the number of claws on a robe’s dragons indicate rank. In this case, the four-clawed dragons, or mang, suggest that the owner was a high-ranking official. Each of the dragons is pursuing a flaming pearl, which represents spiritual wisdom, and suggests the wearer’s desire to attain enlightenment.
The robe is covered with a variety of other auspicious symbols. Stylized bats represent happiness, coins stand for prosperity, and the circular Chinese character shou means longevity. The swastikas emerging from the waves are also wishes for longevity and good luck. Some of the symbols highlight the wearer’s intellectual attributes. Scroll paintings and brush pens signify scholarly accomplishment, while stone chimes (which resemble triangles with ribbons attached) represent honour and musical refinement. 
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