This robustly potted and boldly decorated vessel belongs to a select group of wares modeled in the form of luduan that were produced during the Wanli period (r. 1573-1620). Both the playfulness and majesty of luduan, a legendary animal in Chinese mythology, are meticulously captured through the animated expression and bulging eyes. Luduan, an auspicious creature with the ability to traverse vast distances in a day and to master all languages, was said to appear only in areas where a virtuous leader was present. Censers modeled in the form of a luduan are known to have been produced in bronze as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD), such as one from the Bondy Collection, included in the Berlin Exhibition of Chinese Art, Berlin, 1929, cat. no. 45. These bronze prototypes provided inspiration for numerous ceramic and porcelain interpretations, including the present.
Porcelain featuring such intricate modeling is prone to distortion during the firing process, and as a result few censers of this large size and form are known; a closely related example also decorated with a leafy scroll over the body, was sold in our London rooms, 10th May 1994, lot 2; and another painted with a floral scroll was included in the exhibition Chinesisches Porzellan der Mingdynastie. 14. Bis 17 Jahrhundert, Zwinger Museum, Dresden, 1987, cat. no 3767. These larger censers are particularly notable for their extensive detailed designs that emphasize the auspiciousness and other-worldliness of the creature.
Smaller censers of this type are also known, but are notably simpler in form and design; see one sold in our London rooms, 9th December 1986, lot 203, and another, dated to the 17th century, sold at Christie’s London, 26th April 2016, lot 81. Compare also a censer painted in wucai enamels, sold at Christie’s South Kensington, 4th November 2014, lot 291, and a Ming Longquan celadon example, sold in our London rooms 19th June 1984, lot 246.