Emperor’s winter robe

Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum of Design in London has an amazing exhibition on Imperial Chinese Robes  on right now until February 27, 2011. It's like the emperor's old clothes only better.

Lucky visitors get to see the splendor of the Manchu Imperial court dress, shoes and bejeweled hats. The Manchu or Qing dynasty (1644 -1912) was the last to rule China until the revolution in 1912 got rid of the final boy emperor.

Most of the robes, shoes and bejeweled hats worn by the emperors, empresses and concubines have never before been seen outside China. On loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing, these fabulous but fragile pieces are the testament to the skills of the craftsmen and women who created them.

What is astonishing is their miraculous survival in storage through so many tumultuous events where looting and wanton destruction occurred - the 19th century Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion through to the 20th century's downfall of the Qing Dynasty, both world wars and the Cultural Revolution. The V and A curator, Ming Wilson said, "Most of them have never left the stores: the collection is so enormous it has taken five generations of curators since 1925 just to complete the stock taking."

Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor in Court Dres...Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) via Wikipedia
The dragon robe was worn on festive and formal occasions

The exhibition celebrates not only the exquisite handiwork but reveals the complex rules and conventions of the court. Yellow symbolized the color of the earth and as the Emperor of China held Heaven's mandate to rule the land, only he, his Empress and the Empress Dowager were entitled to wear a particular bright shade of yellow. The dragon motif was also another royal prerogative. There were also different types of robes depending on his activities - ceremonial, military, hunting and traveling robes were all part of his wardrobe.  This BBC video explains more.

 Emperor’s ceremonial armor
Silk, bronze, gold, metal and cotton
Victoria and Albert Museum

 Emperor's Helmet
Silk, cotton, pearl, gold, bronze, other metal
Victoria and Albert Museum

Manchu women did not bind their feet like their Han Chinese subjects. But they admired the swaying gait so they wore platform shoes to imitate them! It was the epitome of sex appeal in that time and place. The shape of the shoes below gave them the name "flower pot" shoes. This was the favorite style of the Dowager Empress CiXi, the 19th century royal concubine who rose to be the power behind the throne (see link below for her fascinating story).

19th century Manchu woman's shoes
Satin, wood, starched white cotton, glass beads and silk tassel
Victoria and Albert Museum

Empress' festive headdress
Rattan strips, silk netting, kingfisher feather, pearls, gold, semi-precious stones
Victoria and Albert Museum

Imperial Concubine (1st rank) Winter Court Hat
Sable, pearls, gold, tourmaline, red silk floss
Victoria and Albert Museum

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