Bronze incense burner

Tang dynasty, 618 – 906 

Height: 3 1⁄2 inches, 8.9 cm

Diameter at mouth: 5 inches, 12.7 cm A bronze incense burner, formed as a cylindrical shallow bowl supported on five cabriole legs. The legs are stepped and end in pointed feet. The sides of the bowl are ribbed and the rim is rolled over. The grey metal of the body has acquired an attractive green patina in places. The incense burner is contained within double Japanese wooden boxes. 


The lack of superfluous ornament on this elegant incense burner suggests that it was made for use in a temple. Incense burners with multiple legs, either three or five, and normally small in size – no more than 10 cm in height – originated in other materials such as ceramic, in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 – 589). See for example a celadon incense burner with five legs, excavated from Nanchang county, Jianxi province.[1] A Tang dynasty (618 – 906) sancai – glazed pottery example of similar form, with its five legs joined by a stretcher, is in the Jiurutang collection.[2] The grey colour of the exterior on the present bronze example implies a fairly high tin content in the metal. Two bronze incense burners of this type with slightly more elaborate decoration are in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.[3] Two further comparable examples were exhibited in 1999 at the Kuboso Memorial Museum of Art in Izumi, Japan.[4] A large giltbronze incense burner of similar shape and simple design, commissioned by an official in 907 and dedicated to a temple, is in the collection of the Fujian Museum.[5]

Private collection, Japan

  1. Yang, Z.S. ‘Liang Song Xianlu Yuanliu (Origin of Song Dynasty Incense Burners)’, in Gushi Wenming Kaozheng, Beijing, Forbidden City Publisher, 2004, pl. 12:1, pp. 50-1
  2. The Jiurutang Collection ed. The Jiurutang Collection, Hong Kong 2003, no. 74, p. 111
  3. Chen, C. K. A Special Exhibition of Incense Burner and Perfumers Throughout the Dynasties, The National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1994, nos. 9, 10, pp. 152-3
  4. Special Exhibition of Tin-Bronze of China, Kuboso Memorial Museum of Art, Izumi, 1999, no. 19, p. 14
  5. Fujian Museum online collection archive: