Outside of the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, no other womens' robes of this quality and age are known. See The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 51 - Costumes and Accessories of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 2005, pp. 120-9. (Fig. 1) The decorative scheme of this woman's unofficial surcoat is based on the eight roundels above a wave border, familiar from the first style of official surcoat used by the highest-ranking women at the Qing dynasty court as illustrated by a rendering of a first rank imperial consort's longgua from the Huangchao liqi tushi (c. 1759) now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and published by G. Dickinson and L. Wrigglesworth. Imperial Wardrobe, London, 1990, no. 170, p. 189. (See Fig. 1 for lot 18).
Here, rather than conveying information about rank and status with dragon imagery, each roundel features a peony spray, surrounded by peony flower heads with butterflies or chrysanthemums alternating in each of the eight lobes of the frame. This visual pun plays on the poetic names of the flowers to convey the wish: 'May you enjoy long life, wealth and honor.' The dark field surrounding the roundels is strewn with butterflies and sprays of lotus, chrysanthemum, peach blossoms, rose and poppy which is another auspicious design, known as 'butterfly in love with flowers,' symbolizing joy, love and good fortune.
The borders at the hem and sleeve edges depict the turbulent waves of the Eastern Sea with bats hovering above the billows and peach trees growing from cliffs. These motifs convey the birthday greeting: 'May your blessings be as deep as the Eastern Sea; and may you live to be as old as the Southern Mountain.' In addition, the waves bear the attributes of the baxian, or the Eight Daoist Immortals. The so-called 'hurricane wave border' is a design innovation of the Qing dynasty, first appearing on the robes reputedly recovered from the tomb of the Qianlong emperor's uncle, Prince Guo (1697-1738) and his consorts, which are now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City. See L. Hughes, The Kuo Ch'in Wang Textiles and Kuo Ch'in Wang Brocades, New York, 1945, reprint from Gazette Des Beaux-Arts (Sept. 1943 and Feb. 1945). Some of the robe borders from the Guo Jinwang group retain a narrow section of the five-colored diagonal bands of the lishui, or standing water, at the lower edge of the hem. By the mid-eighteenth century this style of lishui occasionally eliminates the striped bands entirely.
The complex decorative program and exceptional weaving are matched by surviving robes in the Palace Museum, Beijing, suggesting this garment was also made for one of the high-ranking women at the Imperial Court. The fur lining has been identified, revealing it is ermine (Mustela erminea), the white winter coat of the stoat, which ranges in the sub-arctic regions of Siberia. This fur was undoubtedly acquired through trade with Russia, which flourished under the Qianlong government. The balance of the design, with sparsely placed flowers against a dark field on the body of the coat surrounding the elaborate floral roundels, is at once very feminine and sophisticated, echoing the style of enameled porcelains which were made for the Yongzheng and early Qianlong courts.