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    Sale 2108

    The Imperial Wardrobe: Fine Chinese Costume And Textiles From The Linda Wrigglesworth Collection

    19 March 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 27

    AN EXTREMELY RARE GOLD, SILVER AND BLUE KESI DRAGON ROBE, JIFU

    DAOGUANG PERIOD (1821-1850)

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    AN EXTREMELY RARE GOLD, SILVER AND BLUE KESI DRAGON ROBE, JIFU
    DAOGUANG PERIOD (1821-1850)
    Exceptionally finely woven in the split weave technique with the prescribed nine five-clawed dragons clutching flaming pearls on the front and back panels hovering above the terrestrial diagram and lishui stripe at the hem, amidst cloud clusters picked out in three tones of gold and silver thread interspersed with various auspicious beribboned Buddhist emblems including the conch, the lotus, the endless knot, the umbrella and the vase, reserved on an intricate wan-fret and lattice ground, with gold brocade borders, some of the details finely painted, the dragons in gold and the details of the flames and ribbons and turbulent wave border picked out in coral, peacock green and three colors of gold and silver against a marine-blue ground, the collar, lapel and cuffs woven in black with dragons, clouds and water motifs, the sleeve extensions of black striped brocade
    54½ in. (138.4 cm.) long x 81.5 in. (207 cm.) across


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    The patterns on this kesi, or silk tapestry-woven fabric, have been created with metallic threads. Producing these threads was a time-consuming task. Gold and silver leaf was applied to paper, which was cut into narrow strips and wrapped around a silk thread. The more coppery tones were produced by using red paper and a red silk core thread, while using yellow or cream-colored paper and a yellow or white silk core thread produced more golden tones. Over time the silver leaf has oxidized, somewhat dulling the spectacular effect. Accents of red and green were created by combining floss silk with a metal-wrapped thread. These metallic threads were far less flexible than silk threads and required extraordinary technical and artistic skill to manipulate them to form the intricately-woven layered design featuring a diagonal lozenge grid against which the elements of the cosmic landscape and dragons were displayed. These sumptuous effects were particularly valued by the members of the Manchu aristocracy.

    In the seventeenth century, luxury fabrics, such as kesi with metal-wrapped thread backgrounds and details worked in colored silk threads, became very popular. Reversing the use of silk and metallic thread, so the metallic threads created the patterns and the colored silk became the background, was a design innovation of the mid-eighteenth century. Such kesi dragon robes continued to be prized by those who could afford them during the nineteenth century.

    A very similar kesi dragon robe dated Jiaqing period (1796-1820), in the A.E.D.T.A. Collection, is illustrated by J.E. Vollmer, Chinese Costume and Accessories, Paris, 1999, pl. 13.

    Provenance

    Phillips, London, late 1970s.


    Literature

    G. Dickinson and L. Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Berkley and Toronto, rev. ed., 2000, p. 163, pl. 144.


    Exhibited

    Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Fitchburg Museum of Art, Costumes from the Forbidden City, May 1989.