Whether it comes standing or swinging, fashioned of bronze, brass, silver or glass, the censer certainly has value above its utilitarian purpose. Beyond simply a functional object used to burn incense, the censer simultaneously endures as an object of beauty, existing in an incredible variety of sizes, shapes, designs and materials.
When exactly censers were first created and used in ancient China has not been determined. Nonetheless, the earliest known censer was excavated from a site in Liangzhu, in Eastern China, and indicates that the origins of the censer date back at least 4000 years. In the thousands of years which have elapsed since, the censer has enjoyed prevailing popularity as a device, with links to religious and cultural ceremonies.
Academic opinion argues that perhaps the manner in which fumes would rise upwards from the censer could assist the deceased in their journey to immortality.
The popularity of the Chinese censer endures. Lot 1059 in the Asian Works of Art auction on 26 April 2018 offered an excellent example of a Chinese bronze open censer. Dating from the 20th century, the censer was of bombe form, on three feet and poised on a bronze stand. This censer achieved an impressive hammer price of £750.
Written by Hannah Murphy