The heavily potted compact hemispherical body is supported on four solid legs. The stout appendages were horizontally incised to indicate wrinkles and each flat hoof has four toes, like that of a hippo. The hide is molded with a scale pattern and further molded with a three-dimensional jingle bell on a chain around the neck. The separately modeled lid is suggestive of a massive lion’s head, its thick mane layered and combed, its head thrown back, mouth wide open revealing upper and lower rows of teeth with a small tongue behind and canines on the two sides. The snout has wide nostrils, the forehead a horn curving behind, the tip with a kintsugi repair, the bulging eyes shaded by massive brows, and the image completed with a streaming beard in front and leaf-shaped tail flat against the rear. The thick, mossy-green glaze is clear, glassy, with a bright surface and crackling in areas. The glazed covers all exterior surfaces aside from the hooves coated with a reddish-brown ferruginous wash. Carbon residue on the teeth and covering the interior of the head resulted from burning incense.
The luduan is variously described as having features of a lion, deer, horse, unicorn, and bear. The creature is said to be a companion of virtuous and enlightened rulers and has the ability to travel over extensive distances, determine truth, foretell the future, and is able to speak multiple and even all languages. Its auspiciousness and engaging appearance made it perfect for such scholarly implements as seals, to serve as guardians in front of gates or doorways, and not infrequently as incense burners. It is believed that the metal versions (fig. 1) were the inspiration for the less frequently seen ceramics, sometimes in porcelain (fig. 2) but more frequently in celadon (fig. 3).
The ceramics are generally dated to the 16th century, by virtue of style, late in the history of Longquan production. That the form was important not only because of its auspicious nature but was of interest to antiquarians as well, is suggested by a painting by the middle Ming artist Du Jin (ca.1465-1509) where a scholar is examining treasures, including a bronze luduan censer, arranged on a viewing table in an elegant garden (fig. 4).
1.For an in depth discussion of the form, see Philip Hu, Later Chinese Bronzes, The Saint Louis Museum and Robert E. Kresko Collection, Saint Louis, 2008, pp.162-167.
Fig. 1: A bronze censer in luduan form, late Yuan dynasty, dated by inscription to 1341, after The Pavilion Sale – Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 3 April 2017,
Fig. 2: An underglaze-blue decorated porcelain luduan censer, Ming dynasty, 17th century, Tianqi period, after Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collections: Beauty’s Enhancement, Shanghai, 2005, cat. no. 130, p. 141.
Fig. 3: Longquan celadon luduan censer, Ming dynasty, 16th century, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Jack Chia, after Chinese Celadons and Other Related Wares in Southeast Asia, Southeast Asian Ceramics Society, Singapore, 1979, no. 279, pl. 230.
Fig. 4: Du Jin (杜堇, fl. ca.1465-1509), “Enjoying Antiquities,” hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, National Palace Museum, Taipei, after http://www.chinaonlinemuseum.com/painting-du-jin-enjoying-antiquities.php