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Chinese Incense Burner

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China Anonymous, Chinese
Chinese Incense Burner, 18th c.
Enamel on Bronze
17 1/2 in. x 13 3/4 in. x 9 in. (44.45 cm x 34.93 cm x 22.86 cm)

Object Type: Cloisonné
Technique: Cloisonné
Creation Place: Asia, China
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Adler Routh
Accession Number: 73.3.3a

No marks.

Multicolored enamels on gilded bronze.

Object Description
Globular incense burner with three applied lion-head legs, upswept arms, and an openwork lid with an openwork finial of a dragon coiling around clouds. The bronze body has been cast or hammered to produce sunken cells into which the enamel and mother-of-pearl was filled to create a design of scrolling lotuses. Unlike the smooth, polished finish of most Chinese cloisonné, the gilt ground has been left unenamelled and the enamel in the sunken cells is sometimes left below the level of the cell or built up to rise above the cell walls. This raised effect uses colored enamels to imitate works set with semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli or turquoise.

This censer is part of a five-piece altar set that also includes a pair of beakers and a pair of candlesticks (73.3.3b-e).

Additional Commentary: In Asian Cloisonne Enamels (1975), Tomoo Ogita and Richard Petterson identify this altar set’s enameling technique as “openwork,” explaining, “There is no hand-hammered bas-relief here; the base metal surface is flat and even. Whatever dimensionality there is has come from the raised pattern of the cloison wires and the enamel within selected cloison areas.” This author, however, disputes the applicability of “openwork” as an appropriate descriptor. Firstly, an examination of the interior of these altar pieces reveals that the body has been cast or hammered in relief to produce sunken cells. Secondly, the term “openwork” is already in usage to describe objects with lattice-like openings in the body, such as this incense burner’s lid, which allows the incense smoke to waft outwards.

Sources: Ogita, Tomoo and Richard Petterson. Asian Cloisonné Enamels. Claremont, CA: Dorothy Adler Routh Publications, 1975.

Brinker, Helmut and Albert Lutz. Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection. Trans. Susanna Swoboda. New York: The Asia Society Galleries, 1989.

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