The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence analysis test, no.C101j69, is consistent with the dating of this lot.
Complete censers of this type are extremely rare, and this example would have been additionally prized, since its glazes include blue, coloured with imported - and hence expensive - cobalt. The central section of a similar Tang sancai censer, also standing on five legs and with sprig-moulded, five-petalled, flowers applied around the vertical walls, is illustrated by M Sato and G. Hasebe in Sekai toji zenshu 11 Sui, Tang, Shogakukan, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 222. However, this censer was decorated only in green, amber and cream glazes, without the cobalt blue of the current vessel. The central section of another Tang sancai censer with five legs and sprig-moulded, five-petalled, flowers is illustrated in the same volume, plate 81. The latter vessel also lacks cobalt blue glaze, but the body of the censer is made of marbled clay. The shape of the current vessel also shares points of resemblance with the well-known underglaze iron painted Yue ware censer excavated in 1980 from the tomb of Lady Shuiqiu at Lin'an, Zhejiang province, which is dated to AD 901 (illustrated in hongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 229, no. 181).
The latter Yue ware censer has legs on the form of monster masks above single feline paws. However, the majority of decorative legs on Tang dynasty sancai censers simply resemble the large paws of a feline, but interestingly those of the current censer and the two sancai censers mentioned above are all more specific in their design. The green, amber and cream example has feet in the shape of humans, supporting the censer on their shoulders, while the legs of the marbled censer appear to be leaping felines. The legs of the current censer, however are comprised of elephant heads with the trunk held downwards and a foot on either side. Elephant heads are very rare on Tang dynasty ceramics, but would have been entirely appropriate for a censer in a Buddhist context, since the Bodhisattva of Universal Virtue Samantabhadra (Puxian) is often depicted seated on an elephant, and an elephant could even symbolise the Buddha, with specific reference to his miraculous birth. A Buddhist figure riding on an elephant appears in one of the murals in a Tang dynasty cave at Dunhuang. Modelled elephant heads can be seen in high relief on the sides of a Tang dynasty sancai jar with lotus base and stupa-shaped lid, which was excavated in 1959 from a tomb at Xi'an, Shaanxi province (illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Taoci juan, op. cit., p. 124, no. 434).
The legs on Tang dynasty metal censers are usually either plain, or are comprised, like the Yue ware censer mentioned above, of a single paw topped with a monster mask. This is the case with the five-legged silver gilt censer excavated in 1987 from the crypt of the Famen Temple pagoda in Fufengxian, Shaanxi province (illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Jin, yin, yu, shi juan, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1994, p. 131, no. 126). This silver gilt censer shares some aspects of the shape of the current ceramic example, but the upper section is not so fully rounded. However the knob on the top of the censer is clearly in the form as a budding lotus, which probably suggests the simplified form of the knob on the ceramic vessel. A lotus bud-shaped finial can also be seen on a Tang dynasty silver gilt five-legged censer, which like the current ceramic censer has a pierced, semi-hemispherical lid. This silver gilt censer was excavated in 1970 at Hejiacun, Xi'an, Shaanxi province (illustrated in Gilded Dragons - Buried Treasures from China's Golden Ages, British Museum Press, London, 1999, p. 111, no. 72).