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AN EXTREMELY RARE IMPERIAL KESI SURCOAT, LONGGUA
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF AN AMERICAN GENTLEMANAn Imperial Kesi LongquaJohn E. VollmerFor imperial women during the Qing dynasty, the longgua or dragon jacket/coat, was an integral part of court attire, signaling status and rank. The longgua was worn over a dragon-patterned jifu, or auspicious robes, for official, but semi-formal occasions at court. The jacket obscured everything except for the lower sleeves and cuffs of the jifu. This present style of longgua featured a lishui, or standing water, border along the hem which would have matched an inner robe worn underneath. For the higher-ranking women there was a second style of longgua decoration identical to the first but lacked a design of the lishui border. In this instance, the dragon robe worn under the second style surcoat would not have included a lishui along the hem. The Qing imperial wardrobe was codified by an edict of 1759. 1 It designated a full-length dark coloured surcoat with eight-dragon roundels as the garment to celebrate the status of high-ranking women of the emperor’s household. The five clawed long dragons and the presence of special symbols of imperial authority at the shoulders (sun disc with the three-legged cock at the right shoulder fig.1 and moon disc with the rabbit pounding the elixir of immortality at the left fig.2) would have identified the wearer of the present coat as one of the highest-ranking women at the imperial court such as the emperor’s mother, the empress dowager, or the emperor’s principal consort (the empress) 2. As might be expected, the quality of the silk and metal-wrapped thread tapestry weave (kesi) of this garment is exceptional. Because of these factors, it is possible to speculate about the identity of its intended wearer.Stylistically the coat can be dated from the last quarter of the eighteenth century. At the time when the fabric for the present garment was commissioned by the Imperial Household Department for the palace wardrobe, the principal consorts of the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736-1795) had passed away, as had Qianlong’s beloved mother, the Xiaoshengxian Empress Dowager who died in 1777. The consort of the Jiaqing emperor (r. 1796-1820), the Lady Hitara (1760-1797), would not have been entitled to wear such a garment until she became the Xiaoshurui empress on the ascension to the Dragon Throne by her husband when Qianlong ‘retired’ in 1796. The Xiaoshurui empress was the birth mother of Jiaqing's son and successor, the Daoguang Emperor (r.1821-1850), but died barely a year since becoming an empress. However, it is possible that the garment may have been intended for the Jiaqing emperor’s second consort Lady Niuhuru (1776-1850) whose elevation to the rank of Xiaoherui empress was deferred until 1801 shortly after the death of the retired Qianlong emperor in 1799.Regardless of the intended wearer of this garment, it is among the rarest of Qing dynasty garments with only a few surviving examples remaining in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing. 3John E. Vollmer1. Dickinson, Gary and Linda Wrigglesworth. Imperial Wardrobe. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2000, p. 186-187, pl. 170 (illustration from the Huangchao liqi tushi, or Regulations for the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the [Qing] Court, longgua for a first-rank imperial consort).2. Yan Yong and Fang Hongjun, The Splendors of Imperial Costume: Qing Court Attire from the Beijing Palace Museum [Tianchao yiguan: Gugong bowuyuan cang Qingdai gongting fushi jingpinzhan] Beijing: Palace Museum, 2008, no. 107 (longgua with four of the symbols of imperial authority dated to the reign of Qianlong).3. See: Hong Kong Museum of History and the Palace Museum [Gugong bowuyuan]. Splendours of Royal Costume: Qing Court Attire [Guo cai chao zhang: Qing dai gong ting fu shi], (exhibition catalogue). Xianggang: Kang le ji wen hua shi wu shu, 2013, no. 107, p 130-131 (longgua dated to reign of Kangxi).Palace Museum, Beijing. Gugong bowuyuan cang wenwu zhenpin quanji 51: Qingdai gongting fushi (The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace 51: Costume and Accessories of Emperors and Empresses of the Qing Dynasty). Hong Kong: The Commercial Press Ltd., 2005, pl. 76, p. 121 (longgua dated to the reign of Qianlong); pl. 80 , p. 130 (longgua dated to the reign of Jiaqing); pl. 88, p. 143 (longgua dated to the reign of Guangxu).
AN EXTREMELY RARE IMPERIAL KESI SURCOAT, LONGGUA

QIANLONG-JIAQING PERIOD (1736-1820)

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AN EXTREMELY RARE IMPERIAL KESI SURCOAT, LONGGUA
QIANLONG-JIAQING PERIOD (1736-1820)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF AN AMERICAN GENTLEMAN

Made for an Empress or first-level consort, the front-opening longgua is woven on the shoulders with the hare stirring the elixir of life and the three-legged cockerel, two of the Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority. The front and back are woven with symmetrically arranged dragon roundels, each with side-facing dragons clutching flaming pearls amidst bats suspending wan emblems beneath Shou characters, all above auspicious objects issuing from the lishui stripe and terrestrial diagram at the hem, and against a midnight-blue ground with yellow silk lining.
72 in. (183 cm.) wide

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Ruben Lien
Ruben Lien

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