Woman's Informal Robe with Butterflies

Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)

Date: late 19th–early 20th century

Culture: China

Medium: Embroidered silk satin

Dimensions: Overall: 53 x 82 in. (134.6 x 208.3 cm)

Classification: Costumes-Embroidered

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George F. Miller, 1970

Accession Number: 1970.145


Fluttering among the longevity medallions on the body of this robe and its contrasting sleeve bands are scores of delightful butterflies. The butterfly is usually an auspicious design associated with joy and weddings, but, as its name (hudie) is a pun for "age seventy to eighty," it is also a symbol of longevity. This robe might have been appropriately worn for many auspicious occasions, including birthday celebrations.

A careful look reveals that the seemingly random placement of butterflies is actually subtly symmetrical: the insects mirror each other on either side of a vertical axis running down the center of the robe.