Incense burner
  • Incense burner
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • China
  • Date: Mid-Qing Dynasty, probably Qianlong period (1736-1795)
  • Medium: Copper, cloisonné enamel, gilding; wood
  • Height: 167.6 cm
  • Width: 50.8 cm, maximum
  • Inv: OA2367
  • Location: Smoking Room
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  • These spectacular pagoda-shaped incense burners (OA2367-OA2368) are decorated with cloisonné enamel. Their decorative motifs include dragons, the character for longevity (shou), and various flowers and birds.
    Incense was used in domestic, scholarly, religious and palatial contexts in China. In temples it was an aid to meditation and prayer. Incense was also employed to scent houses and palace halls. Scholars used it when practising activities such as calligraphy and music. It was commonly formed into sticks that were placed in beds of sand and burnt in vessels. Incense smoke would then escape through the holes. The forms of incense burners often derived from ancient bronzes. The lower part of this pair is known as a ding – a traditional, three-legged ritual vessel.

    The pair was probably made in the Imperial workshops, at the end of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, for use in a palace. The four-clawed dragon incorporated in the pierced gilt panels suggests that they might have been intended for the princes or nobles. The five-clawed dragon was restricted to the emperor.

    The provenance of the incense burners is unknown but we know that around 1869-70 they were in the Landstein collection in Hong Kong. This probably refers to William Rudolph Landstein (1840-1881), a Polish businessman who established Landstein & Company in Hong Kong in 1865. The company developed business with Indochina, including the transport of rice and cotton from Saigon. We do not know when the burners found their way to the Wallace Collection. They must have been acquired by Sir Richard Wallace, who inherited the 4th Marquess of Hertford’s art collection in 1870. Wallace was a keen collector of Chinese art, although today only a small group of Chinese works remains in the collection.

    One of the two wooden stands is original and is carved in zitan. This timber, which has a very fine and dense grain, was highly esteemed in Imperial China. Its popularity at the Ming and Qing courts, together with its long growth and limited availability, caused the exhaustion of its supply in China. By the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, zitan timber was kept in the Imperial warehouses and its use was restricted to the Palace Workshops. The second stand was made to match, in a different wood at a later date.