Multi-tiered cloisonne braziers or censers of octagonal shape and of this large size appear to be very rare. An identical censer, possibly the pair to the current example, was sold at Christie's London, 16 December 1981, lot 26. A similar pair of magnificent imperial braziers with rounded sides and elephant-head feet from the Kitson and C. Ruxton & Audrey B. Love collections was sold at Christie's New York, 20 October 2004, lot 354. Also compare with a smaller octagonal censer with three sections and less elaborate finial and feet as well as an octagonal three-tiered brazier of smaller size in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Enamels (3) - Cloisonne in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Beijing and Anhui, 2011, p. 277, no. 238 and p. 279, no. 240 respectively.
A pair of large octagonal braziers with similar tiers and domed covers to the current example, but with elephant-head feet, can be seen standing in situ on either side of the emperor's steps up to the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City, illustrated in The Forbidden City: Collection of Photographs by Hu Chui, Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 1998, pl. 32. A smaller cloisonne and gilt brazier with elephant-head feet which still stands by the nuptial bed in the Palace of Earthly Tranquility in the Beijing Palace is illustrated in La Cite Interdite: Vie Publique et Privee des Empereurs de Chine (1644 - 1911), 1996, p. 12, fig. 10.
These braziers were decorative art objects of the highest quality, but they were also made to be used. The most convenient form of heating in the Imperial palaces was braziers. Beijing gets very cold in winter and the limited under-floor heating, few stoves and heated kang were not sufficient to keep the inhabitants of the Forbidden City even moderately warm. The halls of the Inner Court therefore had additional heating in the form of charcoal-burning braziers. These braziers ranged from magnificent multi-tiered cloisonne enamel vessels like the current example, to simple cages the size of a water melon. Heating in the Palace was supposed to commence on 'Stove Lighting Day' - the first day of the eleventh lunar month, and each person in the Imperial Household was allowed a certain amount of fuel depending on their rank. In the Qianlong reign, for example, the empress and the dowager empress were allowed 55 kg., imperial concubines of the first rank were allowed 45 kg., while grandsons of the emperor were allowed 5 kg.