Dragon robe | China | 19th century | Silk with metallic threads | 130.5 x 198 cm | Gift of Dr T T Tsui Art Foundation | HKU.T.1996.1096

Dragon robe

TitleDragon robe
PeriodQing dynasty (1644–1911), 19th century
MediumSilk with metallic threads
Dimensions130.5 x 198 cm
CollectionUniversity Museum and Art Gallery, HKU
ProvenanceGift of Dr TT Tsui, Tsui Art Foundation Ltd

This dragon robe is embroidered with five-clawed dragons and other auspicious motifs, such as cranes, clouds and the character for longevity in the nashaxiu or chuoshaxiu (‘counted stitch’) technique. Artisans would use silk gauze as the ground fabric and then penetrate coloured silk threads in the holes of the gauze to create patterns. There are two types of silk gauze embroidery: when the silk gauze ground is completely covered by the embroidered patterns it is called najinxiu (‘full count’); when part of the underlying gauze is revealed, as with the dragon robe here, it is known as nashaxiu. Embroidered items for the imperial court were manufactured by imperial embroidery workshops (xiufang) established during the Qing dynasty in Jiangning, Suzhou and Hangzhou. Dragon robes often took over one hundred and ninety days to complete.

According to Daqing huidian (Collected Statutes of the Great Qing), an official text describing the clothing system, golden yellow was reserved for the emperor; the blue-coloured dragon robes were worn by princes of the first and second rank, and purple red-coloured robes were often worn by noblemen. In the imperial dress hierarchy, robes with the five-clawed dragon motif worn by princes or noblemen were called a mangpao, while the emperor wore a longpao. The slits on the centre front of both robes mark them as men’s garments. Although there were prohibitions on wearing dragon motifs and the golden yellow colour, exquisitely refined silk was available for purchase, and the imperial silk was also presented as diplomatic gifts.