This child version woven blue silk Dragon robe was purchased from Kerry Taylor Auctions in 2015 by Dr. Reem El Mutwalli to enhance the Zay Initiative collection.
This blue silk (jifu_mangpao) or four-clawed dragon robe is primarily embroidered in colourful silk floss threads on a silk base. There are also elements of different weaves attached to this.
The robe has a side opening with possibly gold or brass balls for buttons with (frog_fastener) loops. The collar, lapel, and sleeve hems are separately woven in copper threads and attached to the robe. The piece is primarily woven with floral motifs and animal figures symbolic of both Buddhist and Daoist philosophies.
The field of the robe is primarily woven flat like a tapestry or carpet in a range of colours. The top part covering the torso is embellished with a total of eight dragon figures with each dragon featuring a total of eight claws with four on each paw. Essentially the rank of the wearer was signified by the number of claws on each paw.
While only an emperor could wear a five-clawed dragon robe a four-clawed robe like this piece was worn by aristocrats or members of a high-ranking family. The body of one of the dragons in the front just below the neckline signifies the wearer as the eighth dragon. Each dragon is chasing a flaming pearl that signifies, wealth, good luck, and prosperity.
Interestingly this robe is also a stunning example of a (kesi) weave, where yarns are woven in such a way that it creates an illusion of cut threads or two different patches of fabric sewn together.
It also has motifs of flying bats that signify happiness. Additionally, it also features floral motifs, rolling clouds, and waves. From the waist down the robe features a broad section of (lishui) stripes signifying calm waters beyond the stormier ones above it. The waist is slit in halves both in front and at the back – a style adapted for ease of movement, especially during riding.
The sleeves are constructed of four different woven fabrics. The primary fabric of the piece is attached to a royal blue (satin) (damask) piece and two brown pieces – one featuring rows of straight lines running parallel to each other, and the other featuring colourful patterns woven over a brown background. The lining of the robe is constructed of light blue silk of a thin satin weave.
Although identified as a child’s coat by the previous collector the measurement of the piece suggests otherwise.
With just a handful of countries earning mentions in the “Object range” section due to technical limitations, one must never forget the vast range of influence the Chinese culture has had across the globe, especially in South and central Asia, southeast Asia, and the Middle East. With its heavy influence on the cultures of Southeast Asia, especially its neighbouring nations, it would not be presumptuous of us to categorise all the countries of Southeast Asia under the same banner where objects like this are highly likely to be found.