The current example is almost identical to a silk hanging sold at Christie's New York, 22 March 2007, lot 458. Both panels most probably belonged to the same series.
This exceptionally large embroidery with nine phoenixes would have graced one of the female quarters of the imperial palace. Stylistically the piece can be related to court-style embroideries of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The technique and design of the work is similar to the phoenix robe in the Royal Ontario Museum collection, Toronto, illustrated by J. Vollmer in In the Presence of the Dragon Throne, Toronto, 1977, p.78, which has been attributed to having been made for the Empress Dowager Cixi. Large imperial hangings with phoenix ornament are rare. A set of three-panel yellow satin bed curtains with phoenix, dating to the eighteenth century, is in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago (see J. Vollmer, Clothed to Rule the Universe, Ming and Qing Dynasty Textiles at The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2000, p. 58). It may well have been for the Dowager Empress Cixi (1835-1908) or other imperial consorts. The design of this monumental hanging features fenghuang, or phoenixes, flying in a cloud-filled sky above lishui, or standing water, and billows. The iconography using phoenix, the emblem identified with the empress represented nine times parallels the use of the emperor's five-clawed dragon. There is an imperial yellow embroidered curtain hanging of nine dragons dating to the mid-eighteenth century in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, illustrated by R. Jacobsen in Imperial Silks: Ch'ing Dynasty Textiles in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 957. Another yellow silk brocade hanging with nine dragons was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, November 27 2007; and another is offered in the present sale as lot 2275. Nine is associated with infinity and celestial power, and was also considered the most auspicious of all the numbers.