This imposing tripod censer with its archaistic bronze-style decoration and enamel coloured to suggest the patina of ancient bronze represents a major artistic theme of the Qianlong reign.
Censers of this type might have been used for ritual purposes in the Qing court and would have normally been one of the five pieces of an altar set, which also includes two candlesticks and two flower vases. The Qianlong Emperor was a devotee of Tibetan Buddhism and had commissioned the construction of numerous Buddhist temples and shrines in Beijing and in other areas, each requiring an extensive array of ritual objects like the current censer. Furthermore, cloisonné enamel censers were used for display in the Qing court. The Qianqing gong, Hall of Heavenly Purity, for example, has a set of cloisonné enamel censers decorated with lotus blooms displayed in front of the Emperor’s throne.
The current censer is very similar in design and form to a number of pieces from the Qing Court Collection. See for example censers decorated with lotus scrolls, including: a censer of smaller size, lion masks, and a Qianlong mark but without a lid in the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, illustrated by P. Berger, China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, 2006. p. 139, no. 44; another similar piece also in the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, illustrated in Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 144, no. 138; and a censer illustrated in Sir H. Garner, Chinese and Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, London, 1970, p. 92, pl. 70.
See a cloisonne enamel archaistic you vessel with the same dark green colour imitating the archaic bronzes, bearing similar taotie decoration, in the Qing court collection, illustrated in Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 155, pl. 147. See another Hu-shaped vessel with blue and green stains imitating traces of oxydation on archaic bronzes, also in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (inventory number Gu00117113). It is interesting to notice that there are also a limited number of archaistic painted enamel vessels bearing the same colour scheme, see a painted enamel bronze tripod Yan-shaped censer, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (inventory number Gu00117067).