A Journey Through China's History. The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection Part 1

A Journey Through China's History. The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection Part 1

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 15. A rare pair of bronze 'dragon' tripod censers, Marks and period of Qianlong | 清乾隆 銅雲龍戲珠紋朝冠耳三足爐一對.

A rare pair of bronze 'dragon' tripod censers, Marks and period of Qianlong | 清乾隆 銅雲龍戲珠紋朝冠耳三足爐一對

Auction Closed

March 22, 07:08 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 USD

Lot Details


A rare pair of bronze 'dragon' tripod censers

Marks and period of Qianlong 

清乾隆 銅雲龍戲珠紋朝冠耳三足爐一對

each cast with a six-character mark at the rim within a rectangular cartouche



Width across handles 15¾ in., 40 cm

Christie's London, 16th November 1959, lot 102. 

Collection of Dr Wou Kiuan (1910-1997). 

Wou Lien-Pai Museum, 1968-present, coll. no. Q.7.40.




This pair of censers embodies the grandeur and power of the Qianlong reign (1736-95) through their striking shape and lavish decoration. They draw from archaism, as seen in the overall shape inspired by ritual bronze ding vessels of the Eastern Zhou period (770-256 BC), and combine this with the quintessential Qing dynasty imperial motif of scaly dragons striding through a dense field of swirling clouds. The elongated handles that extend dramatically in an S-curve from the globular body, on the other hand, are a feature that originated around the Song dynasty (960-1279). Integrating old and new design elements, these remarkable vessels are characteristic of imperial ritual bronzes of the Qianlong period which synthesize the Emperor’s dual interests in archaism and novelty.

Censers were made in a wide range of sizes to suit the needs of different settings and occasions. The present pair might have stood in one of the important rooms in the Imperial Palace, in which incense would have been burnt to disperse insects and provide a pleasing aroma. Some censers might have been produced for altars or temples in the Palace as part of a five-piece altar garniture (wugong). See, for example, a censer of closely related design and form, but of monumental size, measuring 94.5 cm in height, preserved in the British Museum, London (acc. no. OA+.7057.a).

Compare a smaller pair of similar censers from the collection of Garret Kerman (1925-2012), recently sold in these rooms, 21st September 2021, lot 59. Further censers with a similar mark and design include, in ascending order by size: a vessel of similar size sold in these rooms, 25th February 1983, lot 142; another sold at Christie’s New York, 22nd March 2007, lot 201; a third sold in our London rooms, 31st October 1986, lot 243; and a very large one, sold as part of a five-piece garniture in our Hong Kong rooms, 11th April 2008, lot 2826.

Dragons amongst clouds were an important imperial design element since ancient times, symbolizing the emperor's righteous rule over the universe. The five-clawed dragons in pursuit of a ‘flaming pearl’, as seen on the present piece, were a particularly popular subject on pieces made for the Qing Court. Occasionally, bronze vessels of this type were decorated with phoenixes, indicating that they may have been commissioned as a tribute to the empress or the empress dowager. See a large pair of Qianlong-marked bronze vases, decorated with both dragons and phoenixes sold three times in our Hong Kong rooms, most recently on 9th October 2007, lot 1322.