NEW YORK—Macau, China, casino mogul Dr. Stanley Ho has paid HK$69.1 million ($8.84 million) for a bronze horse head of Haiyantang that he plans to donate to China, according to Sotheby’s. The auction house brokered the deal, which preempted a scheduled Oct. 9 auction that had generated controversy over the relic, one of several that were looted by British and French troops in 1860 during the second Opium War. The piece resurfaced in 1989, when it was bought by the same Taiwanese collector who recently consigned it to Sotheby’s.
According to Sotheby’s, the piece is the most significant of a group of 12 bronze heads of zodiac animals cast by Jesuit missionaries in the Qianlong period (1736-95) for the Zodiac Fountain at Beijing’s Yuanmingyuan (summer palace). The whereabouts of only seven heads are known: Several are in the Poly Museum, Beijing, which is run by the commercial branch of the People’s Liberation Army, and two are in a private European collection. In 2003 Ho acquired, and donated to China, the bronze boar head that is now in the Poly Museum. He was ranked No. 84 on Forbes’ 2006 list of the world’s richest, with an estimated worth of $6.5 billion. His gaming operations include casinos and greyhound- and horse-racing venues in Macau.