This decorated metal was made to be used as an burner. It has a bellied shape with three short, pointed legs. Nine colorful floral and leaf designs lie on a beautiful turquoise background on the main body of the vessel. These lotus flowers are the primary decorations on the incense burner. They are in vibrant colors of red, white, blue, green, yellow, and dark purple, and they are surrounded by scrolling leaf patterns. Above this main design is a narrow, dark blue band with white plum blossoms.
The underside of the vessel has three of luck: a peach for , a pomegranate for numerous heirs, and an orange for good fortune. The vessel was created in the technique called . The wooden cover was removed when burning incense, as no sign of smoke is found on the lid.
is a technique for decorating metal. Making cloisonné is exacting, time-consuming and expensive. A craftsman first outlines a design on the metal surface, then bends thin wires into shapes to follow the lines, and finally solders them in place. Then, the specialist fills the wire enclosures, or cloisons, with colored glass paste and fires the object. The glass paste, or , shrinks when . Usually, four or five rounds of adding enamel and re-firing are required to finish an object. At the end, the exposed wires are gilded.
One theory is that cloisonné was introduced to China during the (1279–1368) brought by the well-traveled Mongol invaders. It was a fully developed craft in China by the early fifteenth century when the rich and vibrant color effects it could produce suited taste. This burner is of such high quality that it was likely produced for the Ming court.
The burner is in the shape: a squat rounded body supported on three short legs. It is based on li vessels used during the (ca. 1600–c. 1050 B.C.E.) and (c. 1050–221 B.C.E.) dynasties for offerings of food at ceremonies. In later China, the function changed to an incense burner. This type of became very popular during the Ming (1368–1644) and (1644–1911) dynasties and was used for burning incense during rituals, including worship ceremonies. The smoke from incense was used as a link between the earthly realm and the heavenly world.
For the classroom
- Look carefully at this object. Make a list of ten possible things you think it may have been used for. What visual evidence can you find to support your theories?
- In what context would have been used in Ming China? In what contexts is it used today? How do special scents add to a special occasion or environment? Why has incense been valued across different times and cultures?
- Research what types of incense were used in Ming dynasty China and where this incense came from.