Sale 12AS01 | Lot 603

Chinese Bronze Cannon and Caisson

Catalogue: Asian Works of Art
Chinese Bronze Cannon and Caisson

Lot Details

Lot 603
Chinese Bronze Cannon and Caisson
Dated 34th Year of the Reign of the Emperor Kangxi, 1695
The tapered cylindrical form incised at the breech with Chinese and Manchurian character inscription reading made on the 34th year of the reign of the Emperor Kangxi at Jingshan Nei
Cannon titled General Zhisheng
Specification powder capacity 1 jin 8 lians, iron cannon ball 3 jins, long range shot should be set at 45 degrees with slightly more powder added from top
General Manufacture Executive Hai Qing - Imperial Guard 1st Class
Manufacture Overseer Ba Fu Shou - Titled Manufacture Administrator
Documentation Administrators Shuo Si Tai and Ge Er Tu
Casting Masters Li Wende and Yuan Shi

The caisson made up of Period wheels and metal straps restored based upon a contemporary model. Diameter of bore 3 inches, diameter of trunnions 3 inches, length 63 1/2 inches, length overall 9 feet 6 inches, diameter of wheel 39 inches.

Lieutenant Colonel Webb C. Hayes
Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

For similar examples see West Point Military Academy, West Point, New York
Rutherford B. Hays Presidential Center, Freemont, Ohio

During his reign (1661-1722) the educated and enlightened Emperor Kangxi traded and learned from Europeans while resisting their expansion. He invited Jesuits to court to teach mathematics, geography and science, as well as help in diplomatic and military affairs, all in an effort to modernize the Empire. The Emperor was known as a diligent and fair ruler, reigning for 61 years.

The Jesuit priest Ferdinand Verbiest was born in 1623 in Belgium. His Chinese name was Nan Huairen. In 1659 he arrived in China, and by 1660 he was summoned to Beijing to assist Johann Adam Schall von Bell, the German missionary in charge of the Imperial Astronomy Board. At court, Verbiest taught rulers and high court officials. He composed a table of all solar and lunar eclipses for the next 2000 years, thus reworking the calendar, and was awarded head of the Mathmatical Board and Director of the Observatory by the Emperor.

In 1673 half of China's territory was swept into "the Rebellion of the three Feudatories". The Emperor realized the repression of the rebellion would require a much improved artillery, with particular focus on mobile and nimble cannon. Verbiest was asked to take part in the casting of these light cannon.

The Emperor sent orders to the board of war When Our Grand Army marches to suppress the rebels, it will need firearms very badly. We order Nan Huairen, the Director of the Imperial Board of Astronomy, to cast light but effective cannon, convenient for transportation, Kangxi shilu, p. 6b. quoted in the translation of Fu Lo-shu, A Documentary Chronical of Sino-Western Relations (1644-1820).

Verbiest fulfilled his orders. A total of 905 cannon were cast during the Emperor Kangxi's reign, more than half were under Verbiest's supervision. Verbiest wrote a book on how to cast cannon for the Qing government titled the Shenwu tushuo, which has since been destroyed, but is described in another publication by Verbiest Xichao ding'an. Three types of cannon designed by Verbiest are mentioned in the Qinding da Qing huidian (Great Qing code approved by the Emperor), shenwei, wuchengyonggu and shengong. The cannon offered in the current sale is of the shengong variety. The overseers listed are Ba Fu Shou and Shuo Si Tai, the craftsmen Li Wende and Yuan Shi, in keeping with the inscription on the gun. The cannon are always cast in bronze, the mouth of the barrel being a little narrower than the rear part. The central part of the barrel is situated with two axles which support balance and adjust the slant while enlarging the cannon's power and movability, thus meeting the needs of the warfare of the Qing Dynasty.

In a letter to The Honorable L. E. Holden, president Western Reserve Historical Society, dated 9 May 1901 written at Spiegel Grove, Fremont, Ohio Lieutenant Colonel Webb C. Hayes described the background of his war souvenirs Dear Mr. Holden, I am happy to announce the arrival here of the Tartar bronze cannon which I found as part of the defense of the Ha Ta Gate of the Tartar City of Peking. These three guns were supposed to have been brought to Peking when the Mongols or Tartars conquered the Chinese some four hundred years ago and established the present reigning Tartar dynasty. These guns were used not only in bombarding the Legation but also against the allies, so it is said, and were the most interesting guns from a curio standpoint found on top of the Tartar wall of the city of Peking. The inscription on the cannon I hope can be deciphered. There were but three of these guns on the wall of Peking, and all were under Russian jurisdiction but through the efforts of Lt. Colonels [Joseph T.] Dickman [U.S.V., General Chaffee's Assistant Chief of Staff] and [Henry O.] Heistand, both Ohio men, I secured the promise of them all. Unfortunately, however, the Russians surrendered the care of the Ha Ta Gate to the Germans and with it the control of these guns, so that the whole question had to be taken up again. The three guns were hauled to Tung Chow some 15 or 20 miles and then dismantled an placed on Chinese junks for the 100 mile trip down the Pei Ho (River) to Tein Tsin (illegible)-then by rail to Tong Ku some thirty miles-then by lighter to the transport off Taku and thence to San Francisco. I believe that these are the only Chinese cannon brought to the United States. Very Truly Yours, (signed) Webb C. Hayes.

Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000
Sold for $362,500 (includes buyer's premium)

Additional Notes & Condition Report

Cannon has even attractive green patina. Some pitting to bronze overall. Inscription is clear, not worn. Casson has original elements. The wheels are original and much of the iron strapping.

Any condition statement is given as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Doyle New York shall have no responsibility for any error or omission. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging.

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Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000
Sold for $362,500 (includes buyer's premium)

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Catalogue Info

Asian Works of Art

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 10am EDT
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