Pair of cloisonné enamel incense stick holders

China, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 1736 – 1795

Height: 1 1/2 inches, 4 cm
Height (incl. candle holder): 3 3/8 inches, 8.5 cm
Diameter: 4 3/4 inches, 12 cm

Fig. 1   Cloisonné enamel incense holder, National Palace Museum, Taipei

A pair of cloisonné enamel incense stick holders, each in the form of a circular shallow dish with a bottle-shaped incense stick holder in the centre. The flat interior of the dish is decorated in colours on a turquoise ground with four cartouches containing dark blue kui dragons on a bright yellow ground. The flat base and the sides of the interior and the exterior are each adorned with stylised lotus flowers with tendrils in various colours. The small bottle-shaped incense holder has a flared, gilded base that is decorated with raised lotus leaf panels. The bulbous body of the incense stick holder is adorned with small flowers against a turquoise background.

These incense holders are excellent examples of the kind of luxury furnishings with which the Court surrounded itself in its palaces in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The small bottle-shaped container with a hollow hole is for holding an incense stick upright, whilst the shallow dish receives the burned and fallen incense powder. At some stage, the incense stick holders have been applied with fittings to hold candles, presumably because European collectors had no specific employ for incense stick holders. Several almost identical cloisonné enamel incense stick holders, closely comparable in dimensions, proportions and decoration and with a Qianlong reign mark on their bases, are in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (fig. 1).[1]

  1. The National Palace Museum online collection archive, nos. 中琺76, 77, 78, 394, 395, 396; 故琺 887, 888, 889, 890; also see A Special Exhibition of Incense Burners and Perfumers Throughout the Dynasties, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1994, no. 95, p. 241