‘This fascinating object was kept in a house in North Wales for over 50 years, where it was used as a lamp,’ says specialist Ivy Chan, discussing what was later discovered to be a rare hat stand dating from China’s Daoguang period, made around 200 years ago.
For Chan, this piece offers a glimpse into the ‘opulence’ of the Daoguang court, where clothing was used to symbolise rank and status. The type of hat you wore was very important and, when not in use, these ‘beautiful and elaborate’ accessories were displayed on suitably decorative stands.
The exceptional detail on this stand and its rich colours suggest its owner would have been extremely important — indeed, Chan says, it is likely to have been made for the Emperor Daoguang himself. The idea is reinforced by brightly coloured dragons, which symbolise divine power, while showcasing the maker’s ability.
When it was first used, the stand would have been scented — an upper section was filled with fragrant materials, which diffused through holes to infuse the owner’s hat with rich aromas. These functional aspects were made into decorative details and, for Chan, the stand is a ‘beautiful work of art in its own right’.
‘What was achieved in the 19th century under imperial patronage is really amazing,’ concludes Chan. ‘The invention of new colours, glazes and enamels really exemplifies the technical abilities of the craftsmen at the time.’ The discovery of an imperial work is, she adds, ‘really special’.