The 'Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority' are represented by the sun, moon, the constellation of seven stars of the Big Dipper, mountains, dragons, pheasants, a pair of sacrificial cups, water weed, grains of millet, flames, a sacrificial axe, and fu symbol. These symbols appeared as early as the Zhou dynasty, and the entire combination when used together was exclusively reserved for the emperor, signifying The Ruler of the Universe, cf. V. Garrett, Chinese Clothing: An Illustrated Guide, Oxford, 1994, p. 4. These twelve symbols were later adopted as imperial motifs on Qing dynasty 'dragon' robes which were regulated in the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. The Huangchao liqi tushi, 'Illustrated Precedents for the Ritual Paraphernalia of the Imperial Court', which was enforced in 1766, restricted the use of the Twelve Symbols to the emperor and it is highly probable that the present robe was made for the Qianlong Emperor himself.
Embroidered Qianlong period twelve-symbol robes are extremely rare, and there are few published examples that relate closely to the present example. The most similar example, also with rose flower sprigs, is the jifu that was included in the exhibition, The Qianlong Emperor, Treasures from the Forbidden City, Zhang Hongxing, National Museums of Scotland Publishing Limited, 2002, p. 45, no. 12, where the authors explain that the jifu was worn by the Qianlong Emperor on less formal occasions such as state banquets and festivals as well as Imperial birthdays. It was also included in the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition China, The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, London, 2005, Catalogue p. 72, no 5.
A Qianlong period embroidered Twelve-Symbol dragon robe further embellished with seed pearls from the collection of Edmond Fourier, Paris, is illustrated by John Vollmer, op. cit., pl. 25, and was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 10 April 2006, lot 1540.
Compare also to two further embroidered yellow-ground Imperial twelve-symbol robes of the same date, both reserved against a wan-fret ground, the first included in the exhibition Imperial Robes and Textiles of the Chinese Court, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, April 13 - June 15, 1943, illustrated by Alan Priest, Catalogue, no. 20, l. IV; and another sold in these Rooms, The Imperial Sale, 26 April 2004, lot 1014.
Two further yellow-ground kesi Twelve-Symbol dragon robes are worthy comparisons, one illustrated by Dickenson and Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Oxford University Press, 1990, pl. 57; and another sold at Sotheby's New York, 22 March 1995, lot 88. A related dragon robe embroidered with gold and silver with the Twelve Symbols on a blue-ground was offered in our New York Rooms, 24 March 2004, lot 36.