Re-Discovered: Chinese Imperial Court Robe

SNEAK PEEK: A Decade of Gifts and Discoveries 

The collections team has been busy preparing for the upcoming Gifts and Discoveries show.  One of the gifts to be on display in this exhibition is a silk Chinese Imperial Court Robe that had been “re-discovered” after its move to the new Hampden Art Storage Center last year.  The crew carefully unwrapped the robe from its temporary packaging in order to examine its condition for installation and take some updated photos.

The incredible detail in the embroidery sidetracked them as they tried to decipher the symbols depicted in the 19th century Ch’ing Dynasty creation.  Details include eight elaborate five-fingered gold dragons (one in the center on both the front and the back of the garment, one on each shoulder wrapping around to the other side, and one on each of the legs on both the front and back), surrounded by numerous tiny waves, a few other mystical creatures, and several green and white bats.  The five-clawed dragons signify that the robe was for an imperial family member, versus an official who would have donned a four-clawed dragon (a system that was first used under Mongol rule).  In fact, research shows that in 1636, a law was passed that stated that no one under the rank of a first-degree prince was allowed to wear the yellow or five-clawed dragon robes.  This is just one example of the many pieces that will be sure to strike up interesting conversation at the upcoming show.  Students with additional information on this or similar such objects are encouraged to share!

By Moira H.

Chinese Imperial Court silk robe
Chinese Imperial Court silk robe


Five-clawed dragon detail