Drawn entirely from The Met collection, this exhibition examines these luxury textiles from artistic and technical points of view. It is organized in two rotations: The first focuses on costumes used in dramas based on historical events; and the second features costumes from plays derived from legends and myths. The presentation showcases eight robes, each of which was created for a specific role—court lady, official, general, monk, nun, and immortal. A set of album leaves faithfully depicting theatrical characters wearing such robes is also displayed.
The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed a flowering of Chinese drama. Under the patronage of the Qing court (1644–1911), performances—including the "Peking Opera"—filled the Forbidden City in Beijing. A form of traditional Chinese theater, Peking Opera was developed fully by the mid-19th century, and because of the form's minimal stage settings and the importance of exaggerated gestures and movements, costume played an unusually significant role.
This exhibition includes superb examples with interior markings indicating their use in court productions.
The exhibition is made possible by the Joseph Hotung Fund.
Theatrical robe with phoenix and floral patterns (detail), 19th century. China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Silk thread embroidery on silk satin; 50 x 96 in. (127 x 243.84 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1929 (30.76.12)