Mythical beasts of this form are known as luduan, legendary creatures capable of distinguishing between good and evil. Because of these qualities incense burners of this form were placed beside or in front of the imperial throne to symbolise that the emperor, protected by these animals, was a virtuous and intelligent ruler. In this function a pair of cloisonne enamel incense burners of this form can be seen in situ in a photograph of the throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony illustrated in Palaces of the Forbidden City, Hong Kong, 1986, pp. 66-7.
Luduan-form censers are seen as early as late Ming/early Qing. Two Ming examples of this form with Wanli marks in the Qing Court Collection are illustrated in Enamels 1: Cloisonne in the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) Dynasties, Compendium of Collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2011, pls. 102-103. These examples share with later examples, whether made in bronze, jade or cloisonne enamel, the same full round body, stiff legs, open mouth raised as if roaring and a single horn, as well as flames rising from the haunches.
The combination of the cloisonne and champleve techniques on the present lot is rarer with only a few examples published. A closely comparable example from the collection of Robert Chang was included in the exhibition Colorful, Elegant, and Exquisite: A Special Exhibition of Imperial Enamel Ware from Mr. Robert Chang's Collection, Suzhou Museum, 2007-2008, Catalogue, p. 60; with another pair of the same form on p. 40, all dated to the Qianlong period. Further examples in cloisonne enamel are illustrated in The Enamel Volume, The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum, Shenyang, 2007, pp. 90-95, pls. 4-6. A very large pair of luduan was sold at Christie's New York, 29 March 2006, lot 311.