The two red seals, yan nian, may be translated, 'prolong the year'.
The designers of this monumental textile have created a trompe l'oeil masterpiece, imitating a twelve-fold palace screen with painted panels set in carved huanghuali wood frames. This furnishing, made entirely in the time-consuming kesi, or slit and dove-tail silk tapestry technique, is a tour de force of the weaver's craft, which subtly imitates the shades of 'boneless' bird and flower study painting and the delicately carved relief and fretwork of the hardwood furniture.
In style, the work fits within the traditions of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795) court workshops, which produced a wide range of luxury textile pictures for the decoration of the emperor's private residences. These in turn are linked to the practice of copying paintings in fine woven or embroidered textiles that can be traced to the collecting activities of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) emperors, who established textiles as a category of art works within the imperial collection. The inclusion of textiles as art in the imperial collection is probably related to the production of mandalas and other religious works, dating from the Tang dynasty (618-907), that were made for Buddhist monasteries and other religious establishments, some of which still survive in their sacred contexts in Japan.
In the secular world, the transformation of painted images into luxury textiles emphasized the significance of important art works and the celebrity of artists. The largest holding of kesi and embroidered textiles, mounted as album leaves, hand scrolls and hanging scrolls is now in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Numbering over 400 items, many of these works bear the personal comments and seals of the Qianlong Emperor. During the reign of this emperor, historical works continued to be added to the imperial collection; others, like the modest panel dated to 1763, which depicts a type of orchid the emperor found unmentioned in Chinwang Pu's botanical reference work and now in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago (acc. no. 1913.161), illustrate contemporaneous production following the same luxury textile tradition.
Trompe l'oeil effects, introduced to Chinese painting by Western-trained artists such as the Jesuit Guiseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) who held appointments at the Imperial Painting Academy were irresistible to the Chinese court. The World Monument Fund-sponsored restoration of the Juan Qin (The Lodge of Retirement) which had walls and ceilings decorated in trompe l'oeil, is perhaps the best-known example of trompe l'oeil decoration dating from the late Qianlong period. Conceptually this screen fits the spirit of these rooms; but no internal or external documentation can substantiate this hypothesis.
The only other known monumental textile screen in trompe l'oeil style is the unpublished embroidered, painted and appliqué example now in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (acc. no. E21173). The Peabody Essex textile imitates a similar twelve-panel screen with bird and flower 'paintings' worked in embroidery set in wood-grained painted 'frames' further embellished with 'hard stone inlays' made of padded painted silk appliqué. The panels are fitted with sleeves to accommodate an armature - presumably made of bamboo - to facilitate their display.