Home > Antiques/Antiquities, Asian Art, Chinese, International, Museums/Galleries, Sculpture > TWO CHINESE BRONZE ZODIAC ANIMAL HEADS HEAD BACK TO CHINA



Twelve bronze animal heads were taken from the Yuanmingyuan by the British and French troops storming the Summer Palace during the Second Opium War.  Five  (ox, tiger, pig, monkey and horse) have been returned to China; the dragon is said to be in Taiwan; the sheep, snake, rooster and dog are missing.

Francois-Henri Pinault acquired the rat and the rabbit heads from Christie’s in Paris in 2009 and returned them to China last Friday.  Francois-Henri Pinault and his family own a number of luxury good companies and  Christie’s auction house. His company is now called Kering. Christie’s  had announced in April that it had been granted a license that would enable it to operate as the first international auction house independently on the Chinese mainland.

Remember Ai Weiwei’s monumental sculpture installation of the Twelve Animals of the Zodiac now  displayed in Toronto’s City Hall reflection pool? Ai Wei Wei’s   Circle of Animals are reinterpreted, and  based on the design of the bronze heads from the fountain clock at the Yuanmingyuan (Palace of  Perfect Brightness), once an imperial retreat  located outside Beijing, and designed by Guiseppe Castiglione, aka Lang Shining, the Jesuit missionary in   the 18th century. The bronze heads by Ai Wei Wei, can be seen as a commentary on the Chinese quest to have  all twelve heads returned after the 19th century colonialist humiliation, focusing on questions of looting, repatriation, faking and copying.

Since we are talking about faking and copying,  I do want to mention the book I recently wrote about:  Original Intentions: Essays on Production, Reproduction, and Interpretation in the Arts of China – have just started to read it and will write more later.


Elisabeth and Natasha

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