A stolen rare artifact from a revered imperial palace in China fetched more than double its estimated value at a recent auction in England.
Reportedly looted in Beijing by a British soldier in 1860, the 3,000-year-old bronze water vessel dating back to the Western Zhou dynasty (1047-772BC), was purchased for a whopping £410,000 ($581,600) at Canterbury Auction Galleries on Wednesday.
According to the SCMP, the auction still pushed through despite an earlier condemnation from China. The Chinese government even called for a boycott in a bid to halt the sale when it was announced last month.
China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage stated on Tuesday that it “strongly opposes and condemns Canterbury Auction Galleries’ insistence on auctioning the suspected illegally discharged cultural artefact despite solemn protests from China.”
The agency further accused the house of using looted cultural relics to “conduct commercial hype”.
However, the controversy sparked even more interest from potential buyers, notably Chinese ones. The identity of the buyer has not been disclosed.
Referred to as a Tiger Ying because of its tiger decorations, the item was listed at the auction house’ website an estimated value of up to £160,000 (US$226,000).
According to the auction house, the artifact was recently found by the salesroom’s Chinese art specialist Alastair Gibson in the seaside town of Kent. Gibson noted that the previous owner also sold an enamel incense burner along with the vessel at £37,000 ($53,000) in December.
The rare vessel, which was looted by Royal Marines captain Harry Lewis Evans from the Summer Palace in Beijing, is believed to be one of only seven similar archaic vessels to exist. Five of them are reportedly housed in museums.
In a handwritten note to his mother, Evans described the looting of the palace, including the items he took himself.
“The war is now virtually at an end … Peking is now virtually ours,” Evans wrote in the letter discovered along with the vessel. “I went out on Thursday with a party to burn down the Summer Palace.
“The temples were enriched with quantities of the most beautiful bronzes and enamels, but were too large and heavy to be moved conveniently,” he went on.
“I succeeded in getting several bronzes and enamel vases as well as some very fine porcelain cups and saucers of the Emperor’s imperial pattern (yellow with green dragons) but they are so dreadfully brittle that I quite despair ever being able to get them home in their present condition.”
British and French forces ransacked the Summer Palace towards the end of the Opium Wars reportedly as an act of revenge against the imperial Chinese authorities for alleged breach of agreements.
Feature image via Canterbury Auction Galleries