On the hem of the Empress' garment, worn beneath her robe, is the symbol of the Empress, the eternal Phoenix. The color red is prominent in this composition, notably for its promise of good luck, power and prosperity. Also symbolic of these qualities are the elegant peonies found on her head-dress and splendid apparel. The Chinese characters on the cushions beside her foretell of long life, and the royal dragon at the back of her throne reveals live claws, reflecting its Imperial nature.
The Ching Dynasty, founded by the Manchus, lasted from 1636 to 1912. its Manchurian Emperors were great patrons of the arts, and the greatest of all was Emperor Ch'ien-Lung.
During his reign of 62 years, he and his Empress commissioned and collected countless works of priceless art. painting, architecture, porcelain and the decorative arts flourished under his largely peaceful reign. To properly display their spectacular collection the Imperial Couple ordered the building of Yuan-zing-yuan, a magnificent Rococo-style palace, the finest example of Western architecture in Asia. Much of what exists today of Chinese art was produced during the benevolent rule of Ch'ien-Lung and his beautiful Empress.
Following the loss of many treasured paintings in a fire brought about during the war with Great Britain and France, the Empress resolved to replace the collection with even more brilliant masterpieces. She gathered artists from around the world, commissioning them to create their finest works for a new Summer Palace in Beijing.