Daoist Priest's Robe
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Embroidered yellow twill.
A yellow full-length Daoist Priest's Robe of Descent (jiangyi) with a center front opening and ball-and-loop toggle button. Rectangular in shape, the robe's outer edges are hemmed at the bottom to create slits for sleeves.
The larger portions of the front panels are composed of yellow damask silk with dragon roundels. The dragons are four-clawed, a design originally reserved for lower-ranking Manchu nobility, Chinese nobility and all officials, but in wide usage by the 1800s. The bottom of the front panel contains stylized lotus flowers embroidered on navy blue satin. The robe's front lapels are decorated with lingzhi fungi (a Daoist symbol of longevity and immortality), narcissi, orchids and plum blossoms.
A Manchu woman's informal robe was most likely recycled for the back panel. The yellow-twill is predominantly embroidered with peonies in gradated shades of lavender, blue and green. The flowers' bright colors come from new aniline chemical dyes discovered in Europe in 1856 and introduced to China in 1871. The peonies are embroidered using multi-colored silk floss in variations of the satin stitch, with minimal couching of gold-wrapped threads to accent veins in the peonies' leaves. The seed knot stitch is used sparingly to indicate the flowers' stamen. Embroidered turquoise shou characters (also symbolizing longevity) stud the yellow background. The same decorative motif of peonies and shou characters is repeated in the inner border outlining the hem, while the outer border consists of an embroidered black fret pattern.
A Robe of Descent would have been worn by the highest-ranking priest during specific Daoist ceremonies. Unlike more exemplary Daoist robes, this piece lacks any Daoist iconography, such as the cosmic diagram, indicating that the robe may have been used for informal wear. The robe is composed of various panels, possibly following the tradition of constructing patchwork clothing from material donated by the court and lay public. The recycling of materials also reflects the Daoist principle of balance achieved through recycling energy sources. The square shape and outer border indicates that the robe may have been later converted into a bed covering.
(written by Tiffany Yao, Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern, summer 2010)
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