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Forbidden City furniture for auction at Bonhams Chinese Art sale

Historical pieces of Chinese furniture, which include a pair of gilt-lacquer cabinets and an Imperial gilt bronze zitan double gourd plaque are due to be sold in Bonhams Chinese Art sale on 16th May in London.

These objects possess a significant and impressive provenance, once belonging to an important Spanish diplomat who witnessed the Boxer Rebellion in China and which remained with succeeding generations of the nobleman’s family.

Luis Valera y Delavat, a Spanish nobleman, was sent to China in order to protect Spanish interests. As a great art collector, he acquired rare and interesting Chinese works of art in addition to writing books, including one of his more important works entitled Shadow Plays in which he recounts his perilous journey from Hong Kong to Beijing a few days before the end of the siege of the Diplomatic Legations and its immediate aftermath.

Offered from his collection is Lot 390, an 18th century pair of important gilt-lacquer cabinets, estimated at £80,000-120,000. According to the family the cabinets were acquired around 1900 and originated from the Forbidden City. In fact, there is a unique likeness to another existing pair of gilt-lacquered cabinets still housed within the Forbidden City, in the Yucuixuan (‘Bower of Purest Joy’), a hall within the Ningshougong (‘Palace of Tranquility and Longevity’) ? the Qianlong Emperor’s private palace planned for his retirement.

The Emperor was very much involved in the design and decoration of the retirement palace and indeed its opulent embellishments. Based on numerous design similarities of each pair of cabinets, it is most likely that these cabinets for sale could have come from the Forbidden City as well and most probably from the Ningshougong, where it may have been part of a set of cabinets furnishing the Yucuixian.

Asaph Hyman, director of Chinese Art says: “We were very excited to make the discovery of the rare pair of lacquer cabinets, which match the pair in the Forbidden City and very possibly part of the same set”.

Another fascinating item in this sale is Lot 391, an 18th century rare Imperial double-gourd gilt-bronze zitan and hardwood ‘Da Ji’ plaque is estimated at £15,000 ? 25,000. This wonderful object boasts artistic craftsmanship associated with the height of the Qing dynasty period.

The plaque is decorated with multiple layers of symbolism and an auspicious message. Five bats adorning the gilt-bronze crest symbolize the five wishes: old age, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death. The wish for longevity is further reinforced by the shape of the double gourd. The rare double-catfish gilt bronze handles also signify the blessing: may you have plenty year after year. The detail of this highly auspicious plaque suggests that it was probably made in celebration of an Imperial birthday.