Similar models, symbols of noble character and longevity, still reside outside the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City – models that were commissioned by the emperor Qianlong in 1744. They could function as incense burners with the white smoke exiting by the beak.
This probably 18th century head, with a patina suggesting it was displayed outside, carries an old collector’s label stating it was taken ‘From Summer Palace Peking, October 1860’.
Objects removed by French and British soldiers during the sacking of the Yuan Ming Yuan or Old Summer Palace at the end of the Second Opium War have a particular resonance in China today and are valued by more than mere aesthetics.
When offered by Clarke’s (18% buyer’s premium) in Semley, Dorset, on December 29-31 with a guide of just £80-120, it sold at £3800.
Bronze high point
The relatively short reign of the Ming emperor Xuande (1425-35) was considered a high point in the production of bronze works of art.
Such was the reverence for these wares that a large number of bronzes made during the 17th and 18th centuries have honorific apocryphal marks to their base.
This example, above, with its carved hardwood stand measuring 8in (20cm) across, is one of a group of Qing censers made in imitation of Song dynasty prototypes.
With a four-character Xuande mark, it emerged for sale with a brief catalogue description and an estimate of £200-300 at Liskeard, Cornwall, firm Clarks (21% buyer’s premium inc VAT) on January 1. It got the new year off to a flying start when sold at £38,000.