The Chinese imperial art collection was divided into groups. Perhaps the most significant from our Western perspective is the first group, which included fine and decorative art objects, some of historical importance that were "hidden." See G. Holzwarth, "The Qianlong Emperor as Art patron and the Formation of the Collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing," China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, E. S. Rawski, and J. Rawson, eds., London, Royal Academy of Art, 2005. pp. 41-53. These were wrapped in silk, stored in custom-made boxes and taken out on occasion to be appreciated privately. A second group consisted of objects for display. These included paintings which were applied to walls, large hanging scrolls and panels of imperial calligraphy that hung in palaces, other art works mounted on screens that were placed behind thrones and other framed works hung on walls.
This embroidered picture in its original frame is typical of objects from the second group. It would have been part of the continually growing collection of artworks commissioned by the Neiwufu, or Imperial Household Department, which managed the procurements for the throne. This informal picture may have been ordered to commemorate an imperial birthday. Worked on bright yellow silk appropriate for the private apartments of the emperor or empress, it features a layered garden rock with flowers. Marigold, an exotic late sixteenth or seventeenth century import originating in Mexico was admired for its yellow and orange blossoms that were reminiscent of the Qing emperors' restricted color. Its name, wanshouju, literally, 'chrysanthemum of ten thousand longevities,' was often used as a pun to wish the emperor a long life. In addition, rose, called yuejihua, literally, 'flower of eternal spring' and begonia, known as qiuhaitang, literally, 'autumn crab apple,' also conveyed wishes for the emperor's longevity.