A priceless ivory model is getting its first proper clean for nearly 230 years – after being identified as a Chinese brothel.
The sculpture, two and a half feet tall, has been a centrepiece at Hatfield House stately home in Hertfordshire since its arrival in 1786.
It is believed to have originated in China several decades before and is called the ‘Temple of the Moon’.
Historians originally believed it was a model of a sacred temple but now think it actually represents a ‘pleasure palace’.
The sculpture has been taken out of its glass case so conservator Nigel Bamforth can carry out the painstaking task of restoring it to its former glory.
The deep clean is the first since the model arrived in Britain.
Vicki Perry, head of archives and historic collections, said: “Historically, the model has always been known as ‘The Temple of the Moon’ but it is now believed to be a pleasure palace.
“It arrived at Hatfield in 1786, having been carried from Lord Hillsborough’s house in London by two men, due to its fragility.
“The Earl of Hillsborough was the 1st Marchioness of Salisbury’s father, so it is thought to have been a present to her.”
She added: “It is very dirty.
“There is a lot of old glue on it and bits do fall off sometimes, so these are being re-affixed once it has been cleaned.”
There is a similar model in the V&A Museum, in London, which was a gift from China to Napoleon Bonaparte.
The carved sculpture can be dated to the later part of the reign of Emperor Ch’ien Lung, who ruled China from 1711 to 1799.
Hatfield House is a Jacobean home built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I. It has been the home of the Cecil family ever since.