Imperial Court Robe, Qing Dynasty, during reign of Jiaqing, 1796-1820
Displayed at the south end of the Thomas Room is a vivid blue robe dating from the Qing Dynasty, during the reign of Jiaqing (1796-1820). This robe was given to General Arthur MacArthur, father of General Douglas MacArthur, when he served in the Far East. It was donated to the Thomas Room by Mrs. Douglas MacArthur in 1966.
Dragons are embroidered in gold thread in front and back. A benevolent symbol of power and energy associated with the emperor, the dragon became a popular motif used in the Ming Dynasty to decorate robes and objects meant for ceremonial use.
These dragon robes, or long pao, have very ritualized meanings in their decoration. While yellow robes were reserved for the emperor alone, colors varied for the princes. Four slits in the robe, as seen here, confirm that a member of the imperial family wore it. Lesser nobles and officials could wear robes with only two slits. The number of claws on the dragon is also important. Even numbers of claws meant the robe was intended for a minister, while odd numbers, usually five as on this robe, were used only on garments of the emperor or royal princes.
From the hem with its embroidered waves rise mountains. Clouds float across the sky, and dragons, bats, and flowers fill the heavens. Waves represent the seas, the mountains represent the earth, the clouds represent the heavens, and the dragons represent the "sons of heaven" - the emperors. The wearer of the robe served as the axis for the universe.
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