Chen Yi robe

A Guangxu period silk Chen Yi robe probably designed and made for the last Empress of China, estimated €20,000-30,000 at Aponem in Paris.

Image copyright: Aponem /Drouot

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The 250 lots to be offered at the Drouot auction centre in Paris on 10 June will include silk robes, headdresses applied with kingfisher feathers, jewellery and jade and pay tribute to the sophistication of Chinese fashion and accessories between the 18th and 20th centuries.

The most desirable silk robes acquired by the collector are those embroidered in gold and polychrome thread with traditional Chinese motifs, mostly featuring dragons symbolising good luck and longevity and flowers. Some of them are comparable to those in the Imperial Palace Museum collection in Beijing.

A highlight of the sale will be a Chen Yi robe in mauve silk woven with gold and polychrome threads dating from the Guangxu period (1875-1908) that was probably designed and made for Cixi, the last Empress of China.

Originally a short-sleeved underdress worn beneath ceremonial garments that first appeared during the Daoguang period (1821-50), the majority of Chen Yi robes were initially made using fabrics typical of garments designed for modest propriety. However, as the lifestyles of the Qing dynasty court progressed and dress codes were relaxed, Chen Yi robes gradually became the most frequently worn daily attire of concubines.

The highlight Imperial Chen Yi robe on offer in the Aponem auction is woven with kesi, the most precious silk form, and decorated with narcissus motifs and characters auspicious for longevity.

It is almost identical to the robe worn by the Empress when sitting for her portrait by American artist Katharine A Carl in 1904 that was shown at the St. Louis World's Fair, a painting that revealed the face of the most senior Qing dynasty ruler to the world for the first time.

It has an estimate of €20,000-30,000 in the June 10 auction.