Globular Censer

  • China
  • China, Tang period
  • 9c
  • Gilded silver
  • D-14
Catalogue Entry

This censer was used while hanging by its hook from a chain. All of the surface is covered with floral and arabesque patterns of openwork and with delicate engraving in lines made by single, individual taps. Moreover the ten round motifs of sacred flowers encircled with flower petals are engraved and gilded. The two hemispheres are hinged and can be hooked to close the censer. The mouths are fitted with a socket and spigot joint. In the lower hemisphere, a gilt bronze cup-shaped fire pot is found in large and small metal circles connected by pivots. Because of this equipment, the fire pot remains level even when the censer is tipped at an angle.

Generally, censers were used for court rituals, set on a special table. Incense burners with handles were introduced from the Western Regions, and used for Buddhist rituals. Censers of this type were used to keep clothing and mats fragrant; the censer was hung up with the clothing on a clothes rack.*1 Small globular censers also appear to have been used by individuals, who carried them for the fragrance or to keep away insects. This one is so large that may have been used to freshen the air in a room.*2 It seems to have been the custom among the people of the upper classes in the Tang dynasty to fill their daily lives with good fragrances, creating an atmosphere of the immortal world.

There are some examples of censers of this type from the Sung dynasty in China. This type was introduced to Japan as a censer in the 8th century, and was also made in Islamic areas and in Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. There are some examples without hanging chains in areas outside of China, which may have been used both as censers and as hand warmers.*3