The shape of this censer is based upon ancient bronze vessels. The blade-shaped legs, loop handles and flanges, along with the wide spreading taotie masks, all have their prototypes in Zhou dynasty bronzes, many of which are illustrated in Xiqing Gujian, ‘Inspection of Antiques from the Zhou Dynasty’, the catalogues of ancient bronzes in the Qing Court Collection compiled under the authorisation of the Qianlong Emperor in 1755.
Censers of this type not only served as an important part of the palace furnishing, they were also used in rituals, banquets and imperial ceremonies, as such, several similar cloisonné fangding-form censers have been preserved in the Qing Court Collection, which are found in varying sizes with different combinations of decorative elements. Compare the fangding with cover with a cloisonné enamel Qianlong six-character mark, similarly decorated with taotie design but with flat dragon-form legs in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, no. 59 (33.8 cm. high); three examples in the Palace Museum, Beijing, the first dated to the early Qing dynasty with a gilt openwork cover, lion-form finial and flat blade-shaped legs (35.6 cm. high), the second the with a cast Qianlong six-character mark without a cover and decorated with angular chilong motifs (28.7 cm. high), the third with a cast Qianlong four-character mark and decorated with taotie design with blade-shaped feet (48.3 cm. high), illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Enamels - 2 - Cloisonne in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Beijing, 2011, nos. 68, 245 and 246, respectively; and one with a lion-form finial and reticulated panels on the cover (38 cm. high) in the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum (fig. 1), illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum - The Enamel Volume, Shenyang, 2007, pp. 146-147, no. 1.
For similar Qianlong cloisonné fangding-form censers and covers sold at auctions, compare to one with a cloisonné enamel Qianlong four-character mark from the Mandel Collection (55 cm. high) sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 May 2012, lot 3908; another from a European private collection (53 cm. high), sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 May 2013, lot 2058; one sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1 June 2016, lot 3229 (77.5 cm high) (fig. 2), which has blade-shaped legs and is almost identical to the one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Enamels - 3 - Cloisonne in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Beijing, 2011, pp. 262-263, no. 226 (83 cm. high).