This impressive censer represents the apogee of artistic and technical achievement of imperial enamel craftsmanship during the Qianlong reign. Every aspect and execution has been accomplished to the highest standard. The decoration and the choice of colours also reflect the sophistication and confidence among artists to experiment with more unusual designs and colour schemes.
The censer is of ding form, 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 decoratif motifs such as the gilt roundels, the leaves and spirals, incorporating them with more unusual geometric designs across the body.
Cloisonné enamel was commissioned and manufactured at the imperial cloisonné workshops under the supervision of the Palace Workshops (Zaoban chu). It not only served as decorative palace furnishing, but also, was used in daily rituals, banquets and imperial ceremonies. 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 cloisonné enamel.
Although no other similar decoration is recorded, we can compare the current piece to the vase pou from the first part of this collection, sold in these Rooms, 13 June 2007, lot 25. Both shapes are based upon archaic ritual vessels and bear the exact same gilt roundels.
See also another ding from the Qianlong period, with different geometric patterns but with similar gilt roundels and gilt 'dragon' finial, illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Enamel Ware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei 1971, pl.20.