A censer is a bowl made to hold burning incense, often crafted from bronze, copper, porcelain, or stone. The first Chinese vessels designed specifically for burning incense appeared during the Western Han Dynasty, from 206 BC to 8 AD. By this time, ancient bowls like the ceramic dou or three-legged bronze ding had been adapted as vessels to hold ceremonial offerings, and eventually became the prototypes for incense holders.

Censers were made for several distinct uses that signified social status, from the incense baskets used to perfume bedclothes or garments to the small hand censers used as hand-warming devices in winter. Filled with incense made from dried aromatic plants and essential oils, many were utilized for religious or secular rituals, like funerary services or prayer offerings.

The simplest vessels were decorated with small geometric shapes, animal designs, or an ornamental band, while more complex censers made from precious metals might include cloisonné enamel or repousse engravings, as well as ornately carved lids. A few even took the form of jade or celadon-glazed statues, like a standing duck or a sailing ship. However, the most common form of Chinese censer was generally mounted on a three-footed base, or tripod, with two looped handles along its sides.

By the time of the Song Dynasty, from 960 to 1279 AD, incense culture was common to all classes in China. Along with flower arranging, tea-whisking, and painting, incense burning was regarded as one of the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar. During the Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1644 AD, censers were adapted to more modern forms, such as the rectangular bronze vessels with delicate openwork lids from this period.

Boshanlu, or mountain censers, were particularly elaborate. Shaped like a miniature mountaintop on a narrow base and suspended over a larger ashtray, boshanlu were inspired by the Taoist pursuit of immortality. The pierced covering that fitted over the boshanlu’s bowl was carved with intricate peaks to resemble the “mountains of the immortals,” allowing smoke to rise like mist from its craggy forms.

Another ingenious censer design was the incense sphere, consisting of a latticed metal orb that hung from a long chain and opened in half along a center hinge. This sphere surrounded a small cup that was weighted with a bearing to ensure the incense wouldn’t spill as it was carried.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Old Chinese Gilt Bronze Tripod Footed Censer With MarkA 18-19th Century Chinese Bronze Censer G504: Chinese Blue Porcelain Ware Incense Burner With Appropriate Tone And WorkImportant Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Dish With Buddhist Lion Incense BurnerG514: Chinese Porcelain Ware Incense Burner Of Traditional Kanyo Style With Sign19th C. Chinese Blue And White Dragons Tripod CenserRare! Old & Big Tibet Incense Burner Big Copper Cloisonne Incense Burner, Fine!Vintage Chinese Cloisonne' Enamel Incense Burner ~ Censer Pot ~ Flying PhoenixAntique Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner Ming Wood Lid Bronze Finial HandlesJade Copper Vintage Chinese Old Handwork Carving Kirin Incense BurnerChinese Bronze Incense Burner&lid W Qian Long Mark Nr. Cloisonne Handwork Carved Dragon Incense Burner & Dragon Lid W Qianlong MarkAntique Old Chinese 19thc. Copper Censer/incense Burner Old W/ Soft Age PatinaChinese Brass Hand-carved Lotus Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande MakeChinese Cloisonne Carved Dragon Incense Burner & Lion Lid W Ming Xuande MarkLarge Antique Chinese Bronze Incense Burner Dragons Seal MarkCollectible Chinese Brass Kowloon Incense BurnerDelicate Collectible Chinese Brass Kowloon Incense Burner Censer Chinese Hand Carved Wooden Dragon Incense Burner & Bat Hollow Out LidCloisonne Handwork Carved Dragon Incense Burner & Ingot Lid W Ming Xuande MarkChinese Qing Qianlong Sign Eight Diagrams Porcelain Incense Burner Chinese Brass Hollow Lid Lotus Incense BurnerFine Chinese Gilt Cloisonne Enamel Censer Bowl With Bat Coverd Bowl.Chinese Tibetan Silver Handwork Incense Burner --- Ghost Dragon Collectible Decorated Old Tibet Silver Carved 3 Lion Hold Phoenix Incense BurnerNice Antique Bronze Stand For Chinese Censer Or Incense BurnerAmazing Very Huge Beautiful Cloisonne Censer, Beautiful. Ming Mark?Chinese Vintage Handwork Bronze Carved Dragon Incense Burners Beautifully Carved Bronze Dragon Incense Burner Chinese Amethyst Hand Carved Incense Burner & LidChinese Bronze Hand-carved Streak Incense Burner Xuande MarkChinese Hand Carved 100% Natural Jade Dragon Incense BurnerAsia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Carving Bronze Ssangyong Censer Cloisonne Handwork Carved Dragon Incense Burner & Lion Lid W Qingdynasty MarkOld Rare, Chinese Bronze Engraving 'dragon' Incense BurnersOld Porcelain & Tibet Silver Hand Painted Incense Burner & Lid Chinese Cloisonne Collection Of Handmade Bronze Lion Statue Censer Mighty DespotChinese Bronze Hand Work 3 Feet Hollow Incense Burner & Pi Xiu Lid W Xuande MarkChinese Bronze Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkChina Vintage Brass Handwork Incense Burner -- Fish W Qianlong MakeVery Rare Antique Chinese Qing Dynasty Bronze Censer Marked XuandeChina Old Handwork Jade Incense Burner Armored Dragon Butterfly Lion Ib52d12Chinese Celadon Koro (incense Burner) : Myng Dyansty : 7.5 × 4.5 " 1.19kgChinese Brass Tibet Incense Burner W World Reincarnation&totem & Ming Mark Nr19th Century 1800-1849 Hand Carved Afghanistan White Jade W/ Dragons Censor MintAntique Chinese Bronze Incense Burner, Marked "ming Xuande, 大明宣德年制" Dsc_00175Large Vintage Blue & White Chinese Tripod Ceramic CenserOld Chinese Copper Enamel Incense Burner/incenser ~ Beautiful Flowers On SurfaceChinese Vintage Handwork Bronze Carved Dragon Incense Burners W Qing MarkChinese Tibet Silver Red Jade Dragon Butterfly Incense Burner Kirin Lid NrChina Bronze Handwork Incense Burner & Lid W Elephants W Xuande MakeChinese Handwork Dragon Old White Copper Incense BurnerChinese Vintage Handwork Bronze Carved Dragon Incense BurnersCenser Rare Beautifully Sculpted Silver Lion Jade Incense BurnerChinese Hand Carved 100% Natural Jade Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Ancient Brass Hand-carved Lotus Style Incense BurnerChinese Handwork Closionne Carving Lifelike Flower & 2 Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Ancient Brass Hand-carved Ingot Style Incense BurnerChinese Bronze Carved Fu Incense BurnersCloisonne Handwork Carved Flower Incense Burner&elephant Lid W Qing Dynasty Mark