A CHINESE GILT-BRONZE TURQUOISE-INLAID 'LUDUAN' INCENSE BURNER.
Qing Dynasty Qianlong period, or later.
Standing four-square, with a hinged head forming a lid with a fringe of mane around the jaw, the open mouth lined with sharp fangs, with a single horn to the top of the head, the scaly body inlaid with turquoise lotus blossoms, a leash with four tassels and a double gourd suspended from his chest, 23.5cm H, 4.25kg.
Provenance: American private collection.
The Imperial majesty of the present piece is perhaps self-evident, but similar examples are known from the Chinese Imperial collection. See for example, R.L. Thorp, Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China, 1989, p 40, nos 33-34 where a Qianlong example from Qianlong period in the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum is illustrated. Hardstone inset gilt bronze is rare, although examples of the craft may be across different materials within the Imperial collection, for a filigree-work box inlaid with green stones from the Imperial collection see Masterpieces of Chinese Miniature Crafts in the National Palace Museum, 1971, cat no 41.
The luduan, or Chinese unicorn, symbolise the emperor's wisdom as a virtuous ruler with the mandate from Heaven to rule and are considered to be multilingual bastions of truth capable of travelling long distances. Their inclusion as incense burners flanking the Imperial throne is therefore a natural choice and they hold an important place within the pantheon of Imperial court paraphernalia.
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Estimated at £20,000 - £30,000