The imperial ‘phoenix and peony’ vessel, a fraction short of 2ft (60cm) across and weighing over 22kg, had caused a sensation when it was exhibited at this year’s International Antiques Fair in Hong Kong (May 25-28) in advance of its sale at Koller in Zurich on June 4.
Estimated at SFr50,000-80,000, it sparked intense phone and room bidding before it was secured by a Chinese collector at SFr4.2m/£3.3m (SFr4.9m including premium).
The quality, dimensions and design of the censer were deemed exceptional. Together the phoenix heads and peony symbolise wealth and good fortune while the use of the phoenix as the emblem of the Chinese empress suggests it was likely made for the imperial court. Although it carries a six-character mark for the fifth Ming emperor Xuande (1425-35), it was thought to date from the early years of the Qing dynasty c.1700.
It had been in a Swiss collection, by descent from German ancestors, for more than a century.
The price is a house record, bettering the SFr3.2m for a Sino-Tibetan bronze of the Buddhist deities Pancaraksha sold in 2017.