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AN EXCEPTIONALLY LARGE IMPERIAL YELLOW EMBROIDERED SILK WALL HANGING FOR AN EMPRESS
AN EXCEPTIONALLY LARGE IMPERIAL YELLOW EMBROIDERED SILK WALL HANGING FOR AN EMPRESS

GUANGXU PERIOD (1875-1908)

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AN EXCEPTIONALLY LARGE IMPERIAL YELLOW EMBROIDERED SILK WALL HANGING FOR AN EMPRESS
GUANGXU PERIOD (1875-1908)
Embroidered with nine large phoenixes arranged in triangular formation flying amidst bold ruyi-form clouds, below a row of smaller panels of descending and ascending phoenixes bordered by a narrow band of single lingzhi plants and an additional band of phoenixes shown in profile at the top, all above the terrestrial diagram and lishui stripe at the hem incorporating the Eight Buddhist Emblems and other auspicious objects emerging from turbulent waves, all reserved on a light yellow ground
15 ft. 3 in. x 15 ft. 6 in. (466.3 x 475.4 cm.) long

Lot Essay

This embroidery with its nine phoenixes would have graced the private quarters of the empress of China. The empress in question may well have been the Dowager Empress Cixi (1835-1908). She had served as regent and de facto ruler of the empire for her son the Tongzhi emperor (r.1861-1875), who ascended to the throne as a five year old following the death of his father the Xianfeng emperor. Cixi's regency continued with the elevation of her nephew, the Guangxu emperor (r.1875-1908). At age nineteen Guangxu ascended the Dragon Throne and the Dowager Empress retired. However, the ill-fated One Hundred Days Reforms instituted by the emperor and his progressive ministers proved too threatening and Cixi banished the Guangxu emperor to a palace on an island in the middle of a lake in the gardens beside the Forbidden City and resumed ruling as regent.

The design of this monumental hanging features fenghuang, or phoenixes, flying in a cloud-filled sky above lishui, or standing water, and billows. Along the top is a valance with alternating smaller ascending and descending phoenixes above lingzhi, or longlife fungus. The iconography using the symbol for the empress represented nine times parallels the use of the emperor's long, or five-clawed dragon. Nine is associated with infinity and celestial power. It is composed of three threes and was considered the most auspicious of all the numbers. Nine also signifies the eight directions with the center as the ninth point known as the Hall of Light. There are nine great social laws and classes of officials.

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