Lot 1322
  • 1322

The Yuanmingyuan War Trophies An important and very rare pair of Imperial 'Dragon and Phoenix' bronze vases Mark and period of Qianlong

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


each of squared baluster form, the main body of tapering section with a broad angular shoulder, supported on a flared foot and standing on a square plinth, rising to a waisted neck flanked by a pair of angular zoomorphic handles, each suspending a loose rectangular ring, the exterior skillfully cast in precise detail on each of the four sides, one with a phoenix prancing amid peony blooms on scrolling leafy stems, its long feathery wings spread out and its tail fluttering, the other with a five-clawed ferocious dragon in pursuit of a 'flaming pearl' amid swirling clouds, the designs repeated at the neck set between keyfret borders, with a ruyi head band at the shoulder, the mouthrim encircled by a classic scroll, the foot with a band of pendant highly stylised leaf lappets above keyfret and classic borders, interrupted on one side by a rectangular panel enclosing the six-character mark (later removed from the 'phoenix'), the edge of the shoulder later engraved with the words 'CAPTURE OF THE CHINESE PALACE. PEKIN. 1860', the surface of the bronze with black mottling, wood stands   


Removed from the Yuanmingyuan, Beijing, 1860.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29th and 30th April 1997, lot 730.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 10th April 2006, lot 1537. 

Catalogue Note

This pair of vases appears to have been made for one of the European Palaces in the Yuanmingyuan, and turned into war trophies upon their arrival in Europe. 

In style the vessels reflect a harmonious blend of Chinese decorative motifs with foreign design elements. While the decoration of dragons and phoenix is typically Chinese, the arabesque scrollwork surrounding the birds displays Western influence. It is extremely rare to find bronze vases of this magnificent size and impressive decoration and the present pair appears to be unique in having been later engraved with the details of its provenance. 

The design of dragon and phoenix is highly auspicious and symbolizes the emperor and empress. It also represents conjugal bliss and is a typical wedding motif used for decorating vessels made for the imperial palaces, including the Yuanminguuan. The clouds surrounding the ascending dragon and descending phoenix symbolize the granting of good fortune, blessings and wishes to the couple.