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The quality and size of these carvings are comparable to a set of 12 similar leaves in the Qing court collection at the Palace Museum, Beijing. Estimate: £800,000 to £1.2 M. Photo: Bonhams

LONDON.- A unique set of Chinese erotic ivory panels mounted in zitan wood screens, possibly from the court of the Qianlong Emperor, is estimated to sell at Bonhams next fine Chinese Art Sale in London on May 12th for an estimated £800,000 to £1.2 m.

The exquisite 18th-century ivory scenes show couples enjoying amorous embraces in a variety of leafy palace gardens. These superb panels of Oriental erotica are the latest discovery that will doubtless attract competition from Chinese bidders keen to buy back their heritage.

The reliefs are mounted on eight leaves made of the precious zitan wood, a prized, slow-growing timber whose use in China was controlled by the palace workshops. The 12-inch-high panels are hinged like books, allowing the carvings to be viewed at the discretion of the owner.

Asaph Hyman, a senior specialist in Bonhams Chinese Department, says of the carvings: “The exquisite ivory panels mounted in zitan wood are a superb example of Qing dynasty ivory carving at its zenith. Given the rare quality and the use of this scarce zitan wood, an imperial court attribution is highly plausible.”

The quality and size of these carvings are comparable to a set of 12 similar leaves in the Qing court collection at the Palace Museum, Beijing.

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The quality and size of these carvings are comparable to a set of 12 similar leaves in the Qing court collection at the Palace Museum, Beijing. Estimate: £800,000 to £1.2 M. Photo: Bonhams.