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
What is guaranteed?
A rare pair of bronze 'dragon' tripod censers
Marks and period of Qianlong
each cast with a six-character mark at the rim within a rectangular cartouche
Width across handles 15¾ in., 40 cm
In excellent condition. Some slight movement to all four handles; small nicks to the rims, corners of handles and edges of relief casting as commensurate with age and use.
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In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
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.