37: A 14th/15th-Century Ming Dynasty CloisonnÉ Vase Han
A 14TH/15TH-CENTURY MING DYNASTY CLOISONNÉ VASE HANDLE AND SILK BANNER LOOTED AT THE SACK OF THE OLD SUMMER PALACE, PEKING, 1860
the 7in. handle with brass dragon’s head and terminating in scroll foot; the red silk banner with applied characters reading SI CHUAN / DU ZHONG / TOU QI -- 110 x 78in. (279.5 x 198cm.); together with autograph card inscribed a handle torn from a large vase at the ‘sack’ of the Imperial Summer Palace at Pekin 1860 - curious metal work inlaid with lapis-lazuli / Dr. Clarke A. Ducket, RN.
Provenance: Dr. C.A. Duckett, RN, to family friends and thence by descent.
The Old Summer Palace was a vast complex of gardens and palaces founded in 1707 and which was under constant expansion until the mid-19th Century and is several miles from the Summer Palace, also in Peking (now Beijing). During the Second Opium War of 1860, two British Envoys (Henry Loch and Harry Parkes) accompanied by a Times journalist and a small escort met the Prince on September 29th to negotiate peace under a flag of truce. After a day of talks they were imprisoned and tortured, resulting in about twenty deaths - the bodies almost unrecognisable. To deter the Chinese from using kidnap as a bargaining tool again, Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner to China, reacted by ordering the destruction of the Old Summer Palace, which was carried out on October 18th by 3,500 British and French troops and took three days to set the whole complex ablaze. Dr. Duckett was aboard one of the ships carrying marines which assisted and where he acquired this lot. Charles Gordon, a contemporary officer in the Royal Engineers, gives a flavour of the episode: We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money...I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.
The banner removed/acquired by Duckett was the personal banner for a visiting official from one of the provinces.