Emperor's yellow dragon robe, 1736-1795. On loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

Until the 27 of February 2011 – Victoria and Albert Museum

This exhibition shows three centuries of beautiful and historic royal robes worn by the emperors and empresses of the Qing Dynasty, the last ruling dynasty of China (1644-1911).
On display are elaborate and exquisite robes, hats, shoes and children’s clothes, along with beautifully patterned fabrics created for the fashion-conscious Empress Dowager Cixi and her court ladies. The exhibition also explores the complex rules and conventions specifying which clothes should be worn on different court occasions: from official robes for important rituals to festive dresses for banquets and celebrations, and travelling ensembles for hunting and royal visits to the provinces. On show for the first time in Europe, this is a rare opportunity to see these sumptuous historic garments.

All objects in the exhibition are from the Palace Museum, Beijing.
Exhibition kindly supported by Lady Keswick and Sir David Tang.

The Forbidden City in Beijing was the workplace and residence of the ten successive emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Surrounded by high walls and imposing gates, it was forbidden to all but the nobility and state officials of the highest rank.

Within this vast complex of palaces, audience halls, shrines, service buildings and living quarters of the imperial family, every aspect of life was subject to regulation. In imperial dress, there were five categories of formal wear: official, festive, regular, travelling and military, all designed to suit the tasks performed by the emperor and empress.

Imperial rule ended in 1911, and some years later the Forbidden City became the Palace Museum. The clothes and accessories of past emperors and empresses, carefully preserved in the palace wardrobe for over two hundred years, became part of the national heritage. Worn for grand state functions as well as daily activities, they tell the story of a vanished court life…

Museum Hours