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Enter the dragon.

Byline: DON RODGERS

THIS beautiful example of Chinese silk embroidery was a surprise find at the most recent antiques fair held at the Royal Welsh Showground.

The Chinese have been making silk fabrics, not just for centuries, but for millennia, prizing silk for its special combination of softness and strength.

However, because of their non-durable nature, very few articles of Chinese dress have survived that are older than the late Qing period in the 19th century.

It was the Emperor Qianlong, ruler from 1736 to 1795, who codified official dress and its accessories.

Traditionally, Chinese dress consisted of different layers of clothing worn under a robe, the latter attracting most of the decoration.

The brown backing to this dragon panel suggests it comes from a winter robe, lighter colours being employed in the summer, while yellow was originally reserved for imperial use. This roundel probably comes from a 19th century 'long pao' or dragon robe. This was a standard article of clothing for men on official business, worn both at court and by officials stationed elsewhere.

The Qing dragon robe features a standard distribution of dragons: four, depicted face on, were positioned around the neck front and back as well as on the shoulders, while a pair of dragons in profile, like this one, were placed both sides of the central seam towards the lower section of the robe, both front and back.

The five-clawed dragon seen here is a traditional imperial symbol, although by the 19th century its use was not restricted to the emperor himself and his consorts. It's seen pursuing a flaming pearl and is surrounded by other traditional Chinese symbols: bats, representing good fortune, stylised clouds, a 'shou' or good fortune character above, and tripartite rocks and splashing waves below.

The silk stitching is metic-ulous and of a very high standard.

There is also abundant use of gold and silver threads laid on with couch work, where the metal threads are secured at intervals with tiny stitches.

Decorative roundels like this one are extremely collectable in the current strong Chinese market. A rare set of eight late 19th century dragon roundels sold at auction for $35,000, while single imperial examples can fetch over pounds 1,000 each.

This roundel, while not of imperial standard, is nonetheless a fine example in excellent condition and as such is worth pounds 200-pounds 300, which is why I was delighted to come across it priced at just pounds 20.

CAPTION(S):

* Chinese embroidered roundel * Close up the fabric is flawless
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 9, 2012
Words:421
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