The chaopao was the formal court robe worn at the Qing court for ceremonial occasions by the highest-ranking courtiers and nobles. Although it was constructed as a single piece, its appearance echoed its Manchu origins as three separate garments – a riding coat, a hip-length surcoat worn over the riding coat, and a pair of aprons worn over trousers and boots. John E. Vollmer discusses the construction of such robes in Ruling from the Dragon Throne: Costume of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Berkeley, 2002, p.66, fig. 3.7. The style of the chaopao with the quadrilobed panel encircling the neck opening is believed to have evolved as a result of Ming period bolts of silk or actual Ming robes being restyled into Qing chaopao.
Due to its ceremonial use and ethnic significance, it was the most conservative of Manchu costumes, and because of its association with high status, many Qing period posthumous or ancestor portraits portray their subjects wearing chaopao. One such portrait is of Boggoda, a Manchu prince of the first rank, wearing a chaopao, very similar to the present lot, in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and illustrated by John E. Vollmer, ibid., p.65, fig. 3.6.
Compared to other types of Qing court robes, the number of existing chaopao is small. A chaopao also dated to the Kangxi period in gauze, but with only one dragon encircling the neck opening is in the Palace Museum Collection and illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Costumes and Accessories of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 2005, p. 220. Yongzheng, Qianlong and some later examples of chaopao in various colours are also illustrated, ibid., pp.22-35. A chaopao believed to belong to the Kangxi Emperor in the collection of the Chinese History Museum is illustrated by Yang Ling, Beauty of Tapestry and Embroidery, Taipei, 1995, p. 131, no. 81; and one dated to the mid-19th century is illustrated by Robert D. Jackson, Imperial Silks: Ch'ing Dynasty Textiles in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, vol. I, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 58-9, no. 1.
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