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