Imperial Chinese Robes, the source of chinoiserie fantasies

I recently quipped that I preferred Chinoiserie to the source; having stumbled upon this reminder concerning the ongoing exhibition Imperial Chinese Robes at the V&A, I realized what a foolish statement that was.

Since childhood, spending countless hours admiring the chromo-litho “scraps” in my Nana’s Victorian scrapbooks, I was particularly drawn to the bright and exotic Chinois images. I believe my current taste is still heavily influenced by this extravagant use of pattern and color.The V&A show, focusing on the court dress of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) provides plenty of happy bursts of aesthetic joy.

As the show ends February 27th I recommend that all my friends abroad pop over and buy me a postcard or two.

Until then, a sampling of some of the wonders.

Emperor’s Winter Court Robe


Kangxi period

on loan as much of the show is from the Palace Museum née The Forbidden City

more info

Please no griping about the fur, I am a card carrying vegetarian, working hard to spread the anti-fur gospel, BUT still this is a magical garment.

Imperial concubine’s winter court hat

more info

Imperial concubine’s festive robe


Qianlong period

festive indeed!

Woman’s shoes


Guangxu period

a form of Chinois Rational Dress as Manchu woman did not bind their feet, more info

Emperor’s winter court robe


Jiaqing period

You must admit the Qing dynasty handled  harsh winter with great panache, so much nicer then the offerings at L.L Bean .

Empress’ festive headdress


Guangxu period

more info on this stunning object

Emperor’s helmet


Qianlong period

more info

Emperor’s summer court robe


Xianfeng period



I think I must rush over to our little Chinatown here in LA to satisfy my Chinois itch with some tawdry bauble.

Los Angeles Chinatown

Until then Rose must wear her own silk court robe, pug-dogs are Chinese after all.

Enjoy the long weekend Dear Reader,

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque

15 Responses to “Imperial Chinese Robes, the source of chinoiserie fantasies”

  1. You are of course forgiven. No one could really compare the uniquely original Chinese styling with Chinoiserie, a poor and ill informed European re-imagining. However, Chinoiserie does have its place in the history of European decorative arts and it is a legitimate style in its own right, so maybe you do have a point. My money is on the original Chinese which is gorgeous and mouth watering, but you probably knew that already.

  2. babylonbaroque Says:

    Well I will never abandon Chinoiserie, i do not view it as a pale imitation but rather a distinctly inventive spin on an admired aesthetic. I find myself endlessly fascinated by its many incarnations.
    THAT said, the court garb presented is ridiculously beautiful. Only a complex society could have given us snippets of embroidery so gorgeous and so deeply satisfying. To pile on such beauty in such brazen excess is almost indecent.

    I agree with you and Mr. Owen that the source is awe inspiring!
    Take care my friend,

  3. Jenny Gray Says:

    What an absolutely amazing exhibition!!! I actually read a story just last night about Oscar Wilde’s disdain for the Chinese aesthetic, and how his mind was changed by visiting San Francisco’s Chinatown:
    I think that maybe people tend to think of derivative styles as automatically inferior, but I feel that perhaps we sometimes lose something by comparing things. I’m a huge fan of the Japanese aesthetic, as well as Japonisme. Even though sometimes Japonisme contains glaring mistakes and misconceptions of Japanese culture, it also can be extremely gorgeous. You know, sometimes the artists did really great things that the originators never thought of, or maybe they fell outside of the wabi-sabi concept, so the Japanese never would have done them themselves. And it’s quite fortunate, since we ended up getting Art Nouveau out of it! I’m afraid I’m not knowledgeable enough about Chinoiserie to know the contribution it may have made to unique Western art styles (as in the case of Art Nouveau), but it’s so beautiful that I’m not concerned with whether it’s more or less beautiful or something else, I’d rather look at things on their own terms and just devour all the beauty! 🙂

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I have read some of Wilde’s anti-Chinois rantings, the only time he has lost esteem in my eyes; but he came around! God love him.

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I adore derivative styles, essentially everything I create is derivative. I wouldn’t want a world without Pillement, Brighton Pavilion or Grauman’s Chinese theatre, all marvels of derivative aesthetic. I frankly relish the “mistakes” and misconceptions, they delight me as much as the source.In my mind beauty is beauty is beauty.
      Please stop by again with your delightful contributions.
      Leonard @ Babylon Baroque

  4. I hope that you don’t think that I was being too puritanical. I have visited the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and even though I was sure that I would loathe it, I did in fact love it, so there you go, there is hope for me yet.

  5. I feared you might think that, no, I know how broad your tastes are. I really value your sound judgment. I was speaking more generally, as I am now in school, many professors dismiss the European arts. I actually heard one student proclaim “Europe was without a culture”. I was of course flabbergasted and was perhaps less then diplomatic. In LA there is a culture that regards traditional Western culture as the domain of “dead white men”; that attitude saddens and angers me.
    I am always pleased to discuss with you the arts of ALL nations.
    Your friend,

  6. I too prefer the Chinoiserie to the source sometimes as well. But, when touring the Forbidden City with M. in the early 60’s I was overcome by the beauty of the arts of China. Truly magnifique!

    Fondly, Blanche Sterling

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I enjoy saying silly things, then backtracking, truth be told i enjoy most of everything if it is true.
      Thanks for commenting,

      • Ah, Mr. Baroque you have uncovered my penchant for imagining my life more interesting than it actually is. But, don’t we all (hopefully) enjoy a rich fantasy life? Your blog is indeed a fantasy is it not? As well as being lush, informative, gorgeous like a champagne truffle…

        Fondly, Blanche Sterling

      • babylonbaroque Says:

        I tip my imaginary early morning champagne truffle to you dear Lady!
        Enjoy the day!
        LG aka Mr.Baroque

  7. Great images! I love chinoiserie as well as japonisme. I am continually fascinated by how the West depicts and uses the arts of the Other if we dare use that post-imperialist word. And of course my blog is always inspired by my continual fascination and fantasies about The Forbidden City…The Great Within…

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I love the Other, being an official member, i use the term freely. My better half is an analyst, it is frequently used in our discussions.
      As per your blog, The Great Within ( on my blogroll) it is a marvel…

  8. Hmmm. ‘Dead white men’ was a useful, shocking, flippant and throwaway saying, I remember using it when I was a student. It was a good phrase to shake things up a little, stir the complacency. However, the times really have moved on and I don’t think anyone seriously uses that saying anymore, it’s perhaps more of an adolescent embarrassment than anything.

    I think seeing you both ‘flabbergasted’ and ‘less than diplomatic’ at nearly the same time, would have been well worth a plane ticket!

  9. babylonbaroque Says:

    I feel the phrase to be dated, one I personally have never used of course, but can understand its utility.
    LA for all its bravado is distressingly provincial.
    Would have met you on the tarmac with open arms.

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