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    

A 19th Century Chinese Bronze Censer 清代宣德炉Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner 4 Character Mark With Dragon CarvedAn Early 20th Century Chinese Patinated Bronze Censer Chinese Bronze Censer, Ming Mark, Xuande, Tripod, Incense BurnerOld Chinese Carved Hard Wood Lotus Lily Pad Censer StandChinese Incense BurnerA Vintage Qing Chinese Antique Brass Candle Or Incense Burner Antique Large Chinese Bronze Censer, 19th Century Archaic StyleChinese Incense BurnerOld Chinese Bronze Incense Burner With Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkA Huge Chinese Bronze Censer, 19th Century - Early 20th CenturyChinese Incense BurnerAntique Chinese 19th Century Libation Cup Incense Burner Censer EngravedChinese Brass Handwork Carved Lotus Incense Burner & Hollow LidChinese Silver Bronze Hand-carved Crane Incense Burner & Lid W Ming Dynasty MarkChinese Brass Hand-carved Lotus Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande MakeChinese Silver Bronze Six Dragon Incense Burner CenserTibet Feng Shui Silver Wealth Yuanbao Boy And Girl Incense Burner CenserChinese Incense BurnerDelicate Collectible Chinese Brass Kowloon Incense Burner Censer Chinese Brass Hand-carved Lotus & Goldfish Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande Chinese Collectable Statue Lotus Copper Incense BurnerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Peacock Incense BurnerCloisonne Handwork Carved Dragon Incense Burner & Ingot Lid W Ming Xuande MarkCollectible Decorated Old Tibet Silver Carved 3 Lion Hold Phoenix Incense BurnerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved 6 Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Silver Copper Hand-carved Foo Dogs Incense Burner W Ming Xuande MarkChinese Bronze Incense Burner Lion & BatOriental Vintage Cloisonne Copper Handwork Carved 3 Sheep Head Incense BurnerChinese Inlay Silver Bronze Incense BurnerDecorated Silver Copper Handmade Dragon Incense Burner Ming Dynasty Xuande Mark Brass Handwork Carved Relief Pattern Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkSilver Bronze Hand-carved Dragon 3 Legged Tripod Incense Burner W Xuande MarkChinese Silver Bronze Dragon Incense Burner & Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkChinese Dushan Jade Hand-carved Dragon Incense Burner6.5" Chinese Hardwood Carved Teapot/incense Burners/vase Stand Chinese Brass Hollow Carved Lotus Incense Burner Chinese Brass Tibet Incense Burner W World Reincarnation&totem & Ming Mark NrOld Collectable Handmade Ornament Rare Statue Flowers Copper Incense BurnerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Elephant Incense Burner NrChinesebronze Handcarved 2dragon & Bead Incense Burner & Lid W Ming Dynasty MarkChinese Silver Copper Hand-carved Toad & Gold Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty MarkOriental Vintage Handwork Cloisonne Flower Incense BurnerSilver Bronze Carved Kid & Yuanbao Shape Incense Burner & Lid W Qianlong MarkOriental Vintage Handwork Cloisonne Flower Incense BurnerChinese Tibet Silver Red Jade Dragon Butterfly Incense Burner Kirin Lid Vintage Silver Copper Hand-carved Dragon Tripod Incense Burner W Xuande MarkVintage Chinese Cloisonne Handmade Censer SanyangkaitaiRare! Old & Big Tibet Incense Burner Big Copper Cloisonne Incense Burner, Fine!Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carve Mid Fish & Sea Incense BurnerSilver Copper Carved Elephant Incense Burner& Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuan De MarkChinese Bronze Carved Lotus & Hand Incense Burner W Qianlong Mark Silver Bronze Handwork Frog Incense Burner & Frog & Ingot Lid W Xuan De MarkOld Handwork Green Jade Inlay Pipe Tibet Silver Dragon Smoking Pipe CollectibleChinese Silver Bronze Handwork Phoenix Shape Incense Burner & Lid W Xuande MarkOriental Vintage Silver Handwork Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Dragon Incense BurnerOld Porcelain & Tibet Silver Hand Painted Incense Burner & Monkeys Lid Chinese Antique Green Jade Carving Incense Burner Oriental Tibet Silver Copper Handwork Dragon Incense Burner W Qianlong Mark