The present example is almost certainly the pair to a censer sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 9 October 2007, lot 1308. The two censers are of identical size design and size with the elephant finials cast in mirror image. No other censers of this exact design appear to have been published.
The superb quality of the enamelling and casting would suggest that the censers were commissioned and manufactured at the imperial cloisonne workshops under the supervision of the Palace Workshops (Zaoban chu). In the 27th year of his reign, Qianlong merged the painting studio with the enamel workshop, enabling the painters to use their expertise and skill to engage in the decoration of enamel work. It was during this period that great artistic and technical advances were achieved in the manufacture of cloisonne enamel.
The censer is loosely based on the shape of archaic ritual vessels of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Although the overall outlines of the archaic models were retained, the imperial craftsmen liberally interpreted original decorative motifs incorporating them with Ming and Qing inspired designs.
The tradition of using three elephant heads as the feet of imperial bronze censers and braziers at the Beijing Palace can be traced back at least as far as the Xuande reign (1426 -1435). An example of a censer, bearing a six-character Xuande reign mark, on which the elephants balance on their rolled trunks, as on the current censers, is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and illustrated in A Special Exhibition of Incense Burners and Perfumers Throughout the Dynasties, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1994, p. 199, no. 54. A much smaller (H: 27.8 cm.) cloisonne censer standing on three elephant's heads from the Ming dynasty Jingtai reign (AD 1450 - 56) in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Enamel Ware in the National Palace Museum, Japan, 1971, no. 3. And cloisonne censers on three gilded elephant heads that still stand at the foot of the steps leading up to the imperial throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony are illustrated in La Cite Interdite, p. 9, fig. 6.
Compare also the finely cast elephant head feet on the present example with those on a pair of braziers in the Robert Chang Collection, formerly in the Kitson Collection and the C. Ruxton and Audrey B. Love Collection, believed to have come from the Winter Palace, Beijing, included in the Suzhou Museum exhibition Colourful, Elegant, and Exquisite - A Special Exhibition of Imperial Enamel Ware From Mr Robert Chang's Collection, Suzhou, December 2007-May 2008 and illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 2. Another censer from the Kitson collection with similar elephant head feet, makara handles and with a recumbent elephant on the cover was sold at Sotheby's London, 21 February 1961, lot 258.