Shell forms are known in Chinese ceramics as early as the Tang dynasty, when three-colour glazed pottery conch shell brushwashers were made. The conch shell is of course familiar as a decorative motif throughout Chinese art, being one of Buddhism's eight precious symbols. As a vessel capable of making sound, it symbolized the strength of the Buddha's teachings. In the 18th century this tradition continued with the making of shell brushwashers, particularly robin's egg-glazed. In the present example, it seems to have merged with the European notion of animal-form tureens.
Compare the current pair of turquoise-glazed tureens with a pair of iron-red 'shell' tureens sold in our New York Rooms, 26 January 2006, lot 49