The son of Empress Xiaojing (1812-1855), Prince Gong was one of the most influential political figures of the 19th century. He was appointed as the Imperial Commissioner to negotiate the treaty with the Anglo-French delegation in Beijing, which subsequently ended the Second Opium War. Yinxin also actively supported Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885) and Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) in defeating the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864), and is credited with the creation of the Zongli Yamen, an administrative office that dealt with foreign relations only. After the death of the Xianfeng Emperor and the enthronement of his son, the Tongzhi Emperor, Yixin's political career reached its peak, as the result of his prodigious contribution in the Xinyou Coup, which helped Empress Dowager Cixi consolidate power. However, Yixin's influence was soon considered a threat to Empress Dowager Cixi, and his relations with the imperial court deteriorated.
Yixin's oldest son Zaicheng (1858-1885) died at a very young age leaving no heirs. Empress Dowager Cixi then declared Zaicheng's nephew Puwei (1880-1936) (fig. 3) to be his adopted son. In 1898, Puwei rightfully inherited the princedom and the belongings of his grandfather, and became the second generation Prince Gong. As the Qing empire came to its end, the new Prince Gong sold a large quantity of his collection, including the present seal, in order to fulfill his financial needs, to the renowned Asian art dealer Yamanaka Sadajiro (1865-1935), who then dispersed these items during a legendary three-day auction at the American Art Galleries in New York in 1913.
Prince Gong's seals rarely appear at auction, although two tianhuang seals of Yixin, one carved in the same yuci format with a four-character dictum weiguo fanfu (guardian vassal of the state), and the other carved with an eight-character seal face huangliuzi Heshuo Gongqinwang (the sixth imperial son, The Peaceful and Eminent Prince Gong), were sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1st June 2016, lot 3205. For other related examples, see two soapstone seals of Prince Zaizhi (1839-1880), cousin of the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 29th November 2017, lot 2935; and another soapstone seal of Prince Xian, the twenty-fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27th October 2003, lot 772.
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