A cloisonne enamel makara-pattern tripod censer

The censer is stoutly constructed with a compressed bombé body, decorated in blue, red, black, yellow, dark green, white, translucent brown, and pale purplish enamels on one side with a predominantly red-bodied makara, with a second, predominantly blue, on the other side, in flight amid multi-coloured clouds over rolling green waves, all on a turquoise ground. The heads of the makaras issue strings of pearls from the wide-open jaws. The neck of the censer is short, decorated with a simple scroll, beneath the squared flat rim, decorated on top with a band of cloud-like elements. The base is decorated with four lotus flowers arranged on a round turquoise field. The three short cabriole legs are each decorated at the front with a single floret. The shoulders of the censer are fitted with a pair of handles each in the form of a pile of three bamboo stems. The interior is undecorated.
Sotheby’s London, 11th May 2016, lot 81
The makara, a hybrid mythical creature of Indian origin, is found depicted in Chinese art at least as early as the sixth century AD. Its form changes somewhat over the centuries, gaining wings, but is always recognisable from its upturned, trunk-like snout and its lack of legs. It seems often to take the place of the more traditional long dragon in certain Buddhist contexts. For a longer discussion of the makara in Chinese art, see Filippo Salviati, “The “Fishdragon”: The Makara Motif in Chinese Art and Architectural Decoration”, where the author suggests (p.248) that the makara is associated with water and was probably apotropaic in function.

A censer of the same body shape as the current example, also decorated with makara, from the collection of Salomon de Rothschild, is in the Musée Guimet, Paris (1922, E02456); another was sold in Sotheby’s London, 18th May 2018, lot 287. The Guimet example lacks handles while the Sotheby’s example has high strap handles (though showing restoration around their bases). The current censer has unusual handles in the form of piles of three bamboo stems. While further research is required it seems likely that censers of this type originally lacked handles, like the Guimet one, and were sometimes later supplied with them, in a variety of forms. 

Dimensions: Diameter: 13.3 cm, 5 ¼ inches

Date: Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 16th century

Stock No. 2216

Price: On Request