National Palace Museum – Garland of Treasures 集瓊藻 #5 – Ornaments 服飾

The Qing imperial court was ruled with an iron fist and bound by many rules and regulations. From the number of courses for each person based on their social rank and status, to their dress codes and ornaments that they were entitled to. Many of these ornaments are kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

Before we examine the ornaments, here’s how they looked on Emperor Yongzheng. His name will appear many times as he was stickler for rules.

Portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor in Court Dress

朝冠冠頂 Court Hat Finials of the Emperor and Empress

The material used, shape, pattern, and combination of the finials and hat top ornaments are symbols of an elaborate hierarchy, highlighting the ranks and status of the wearer. The museum displayed a couple of finials that belonged to the emperor and the empress.

清 康熙 聖祖朝冠冠頂 (左) 乾隆 金鑲東珠貓睛石嬪妃朝冠頂 Hat finial fitted with Dong pearls, Qing dynasty, Kangxi reign (1662-1722) (L) Gold finial with inlays of Dong pearls and cat’s-eye gemstone for the imperial consort’s court hat, Qianlong reign (1736-1795), Qing dynasty

“Hat finial fitted with East Pearl” belonging to Emperor Kangxi was found in Mental Cultivation Hall 養心殿, which was the living quarters of the emperor. The finial is surrounded by moiré and the golden dragon is exquisitely woven. The east pearls used are the best examples with bright and clean colour.

In contrast, the empress finial was much more elaborate, with two golden phoenixes placed on a lotus petal-shaped bracket, and a brown cat’s eye gemstone is embedded on the top.

齋戒牌 Abstinence Pendant

清 齋戒牌 Abstinence pendant, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

Clockwise from top left:

  • 粉紅碧璽齋戒牌 Pink tourmaline abstinence pendant
  • 金鑲綠松石齋戒牌 Gold abstinence pendant with turquoise inlay
  • 翠玉齋戒牌 Jade abstinence pendant
  • 內填琺瑯嵌珠西洋人物齋戒牌 Champleve enamel abstinence pendant with Western-figure decoration and pearl inlay
  • 蜜蜡桃式斋戒牌 Honeycomb colour jade abstinence pendant in peach shape

During the fasting period, the emperor and the court officials participating in worship tied the abstinence pendant 齋戒牌 to their waists to remind them to keep their proper behaviour at all time. Before important ceremonies such as offering sacrifices to the heavens and the earth, the emperor must stay in the Abstinence Palace 齋宮, and each palace hung wooden signs for fasting on the doors of the gate. In 1732 (tenth year of Yongzheng reign), in order to further remind the officials of their daily behaviours, Emperor Yongzheng redesigned the style and size of the abstinence pendant and ordered all the officials to wear it. The size of the abstinence pendant is about four to nine centimetres, usually with the word “abstinence” carved in Manchu on one side and Chinese on the other.

朝珠 Ceremonial Court Necklace

The magnificent ceremonial court necklace strung together with freshwater pearls from the Manchu homeland, is symbolic not only of Manchu pride, but also the Imperial power of the Qing dynasty.

清 康熙 東珠朝珠 Court necklace with Dong pearls, Kangxi reign (1662-1723), Qing dynasty

Court necklaces or Chaozhou are ornaments that hung on their chests to symbolise their status when the monarchs, concubines, and concubines in the Qing Dynasty wore court or auspicious clothes. However only the emperor, the empress and empress dowager can use the east pearls. This example has a box that was marked for Emperor Kangxi. In fact it was Kangxi that standardised the chaozhu. A similar string of Chaozhu owned by his heir, Emperor Yongzheng, fetched HKD 67.86 Million (~USD 10 Mn) in a Sotheby’s auction in 2020.

The freshwater east pearls 東珠 are large, white, spherical or near-spherical, and are absent of any coloured pigments naturally. However, among natural pearls such shapes are extremely rare. Among freshwater pearls the occurrence of spherical and near-spherical shapes are rarer than in saltwater pearls. Most freshwater pearls are baroque in shape. Thus, the 108 natural spherical freshwater pearls used in this ceremonial necklace, must have been put together with great difficulty, handpicked from perhaps tens of thousands of freshwater pearls.

清 松石朝珠 Court necklace with turquoise beads, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

Besides pearls, turquoise and corals beads were popular material for court necklaces. Whatever the material used, the court necklace will follow the same formula – 108 beads and a larger coral bead referred to as “Buddha head” 佛頭 between every 27 beads.

Three strings of coral beads called the “Jinian” 紀念 – two sets of five, a total of ten – are attached to the upper left segment of 27 pearls, between the 7th and 8th pearl of the segment counting from top to bottom, dividing the segment into two sub-segments of 7 pearls and 20 pearls. The other two “jinian” strands are attached to the upper right segment of 27 pearls, between the 4th and 5th pearls and 9th and 10th pearls, dividing the segment into three sub-segments of 4 pearls, 5 pearls and 18 pearls. At the back a “buddha head” pagoda is hung with a pendant called the “cloud on the back” 背雲.

These necklaces are derived from the Buddhist rosary, 108 beads represent 12 months, 24 solar terms and 72 weather periods in the Lunar calendar, the 4 buddha heads represent the 4 seasons, the “cloud on the back” represents the start of the new year.

金纍絲嵌東珠龍首耳墜 附木匣 Set of three pairs of dragon-head gold filigree earrings with Dong-pearl inlay

清 金纍絲嵌東珠龍首耳墜 附木匣 Set of three pairs of dragon-head gold filigree earrings with Dong-pearl inlay (with wood storage box) , Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

There are three sets of earrings, each with a tired silk dragon head inlaid with an east pearls, and the dragon mouth is embellished with a coral cover with two east beads, with a lapis lazuli ring in the middle, and an emerald torus at the end. Earrings with curved hooks, also known as “pliers”. Manchu aristocratic women wear three earrings in one ear. This set of three pairs of earrings is equipped with a wooden box and yellow silk, presenting the appearance of three pliers earrings stored in the Qing Palace.

鈿花 Headdress Ornaments

Headdress Ornament 鈿花

Top to bottom

  • 清 金點翠嵌珠寶翠玉福壽萬年鈿花 
    Gold headdress ornament with kingfisher feather and inlays of pearls, jewels, and jadeite for a myriad years of happiness and longevity
  • 清 金點翠嵌珠寶緝米珠萬壽鈿花 
    Gold headdress ornament with kingfisher feather and inlays of pearl arrays and a gemstone for a myriad years, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • 清 道光 銀鍍金點翠嵌珍珠福壽鈿花 
    Gilt silver headdress ornament with kingfisher feather and pearl inlay for happiness and longevity, Daoguang reign (1821-1850), Qing dynasty

When the Manchu women wore dress robes in the Qing Dynasty, their headdresses were made of silver or copper wire as the frame, lined with a braided net or silk or flannel inner tube, and decorated with emerald beads and other ceremonial ornaments. These headdresses are named 鈿子 Tianzi. All kinds of jewellery on Tianzi are called 钿花 Tianhua.

The three pieces on display include a hairpin, a band and a Tiankou. The arc-shaped piece of jewellery is called Tiankou 鈿口, and it is worn on the forehead just below the Tianzi to decorate the space between the eyebrows.

指甲套 Fingernail Guards

Left to right

  • 清 銅鍍金纍絲點翠竹葉紋流蘇指甲套 
    Pair of gilt copper filigree fingernail guards with kingfisher feather and bamboo leaf decoration, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • 清 鏤空點翠鑲珠冰梅紋指甲套 
    Pair of kingfisher-feather openwork fingernail guards with pearl-and-gemstone decoration in the form of cracked ice and plum blossoms, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • 清 銅鍍金纍絲壽字紋指甲套 
    Pair of gilt copper filigree fingernail guards with longevity-character decoration, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • 清 玳瑁嵌珠寶花卉指甲套 
    Pair of hawksbill-shell fingernail guards with pearl-and-gemstone floral inlay, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

Nail guards are used to protect the long nails of the ladies and gentlemen. Yes, Qing men kept long nails as a status symbols and even today, we see some men still sporting that trend in Singapore. The nail sets are mostly made of gold and silver, or hollowed out various patterns: group life, flowers, geometry, etc., and are decorated with inlays or burnt blue and color, because the nail sets are long and curved.

清 銀鑲珠寶靈芝如意 
Silver spirit fungus ruyi scepter inlaid with pearls and gemstones , Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

No, it is not a backscratcher as many thought it was. Ruyi 如意, meaning “according to your desire or wish” is a curved decorative object that serves as either a ceremonial sceptre in Chinese Buddhism or a talisman symbolising power and good fortune in Chinese folklore. This ruyi is shaped like a lingzhi fungus and is a symbol of longevity. It is elaborately decorated with gemstones cast in silver. It comes with a copper-plated gilded and carved flower seat, which is carved with Kuilong and double lions, which is very exquisite.

銀鍍金嵌珠寶龍戲珠簪 Gilt silver hairpin with pearl-and-gemstone inlay of a dragon playing with a pearl

清 乾隆 銀鍍金嵌珠寶龍戲珠簪 Gilt silver hairpin with pearl-and-gemstone inlay of a dragon playing with a pearl, Qianlong reign (1736-1795), Qing dynasty

The prancing golden dragon hairpin with the head of the dragon in a frontal posture with raised eyebrows, eyes wide open, mouth and lips grinning, is manificent. You can imaging the dragon roaring as it appears out of the surrounding cloud. The dragon is made with a single strand of gold(!) using a technique call gold silking. The golden wire is pinched into a honeycomb shape to make scales on the surface of the dragon’s body. The flaky golden wire turns in a large arc, emphasizing the round body and concave and convex facial expressions. The horns of the head, the eyebrows of the face, the beards of the chin, as well as the mane on the back of the neck, the hyena on the side of the body, and the tail of the dragon, etc. The sharp horns that continue to rise outward are like a continuous beam of light. The moiré on the periphery is connected with each other, and the pearls in the center are arranged diagonally with red and sapphires, echoing the gold, making the golden dragon more solemn and dazzling.

The golden silk craft has matured in the Ming Dynasty, and the Qing court inherited the craft tradition, and was more flexible in dynamic control. At the same time, the multiple copper wires on the back were bent and reinforced with the dragon shape, which made the work very strong and durable. It can be called one of the masterpieces of royal metalwork in the heyday of the Qing Dynasty.

About the National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) was originally founded within the walls of the Beijing Forbidden City in 1925, the present-day National Palace Museum moved to Taipei’s Shilin District following the Republic of China government relocation in 1949 with an official opening for the public in 1965.

Over 600,000 of the most precious artefacts within the collection were moved to Taiwan to prevent their desecration during and after the Chinese Civil War. 

Due to the enormous numbers of collection spreads over 4 floors and 2 exhibition halls, the museum’s exhibits continuously rotate, as only a small percentage of the museum’s collection can be displayed at a given time to prevent wear and tear, so there will always be a new series of collection being exhibited on each visit! 

Date Visited : Oct 2018

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