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HOME : Chinese Art : Archive : Ming Gold-Splashed Kuei Bronze Censer
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Ming Gold-Splashed Kuei Bronze Censer - FZ.388 B
Origin: China
Circa: 16 th Century AD to 17 th Century AD
Dimensions: 2.75" (7.0cm) high x 5.125" (13.0cm) wide
Catalogue: V29
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Bronze

Additional Information: sold

Location: UAE
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This striking bronze censer has a low compressed body, slightly everted rim, loop handles and a flat base. The underside of the base has a countersunk rectangular cartouche with a six-character reign mark reading ‘Da Ming Xuande nian zhi’ (‘Made in the Xuande era of the Great Ming’). The form of the censer is one of the classic types produced during the Xuande period (1426-1435) of the Ming Dynasty. In 1428, according to the document ‘Xuande yi qi tu pu’ (‘Illustrated Catalogue of the Ritual Vessels of the Xuande Period’), Emperor Xuande instructed the Ministry of Works to cast a large series of bronze vessels with copper sent as tribute by the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). They were intended for use on the altars of the palace and beyond. It was customary to display such vessels in groups of five, a central censer, flanked by pairs of vases and candlesticks. Censers were also used in secular contexts, displayed in the studies of the literati and used to burn incense. Xuande apparently commissioned c. 20,000 vessels of 117 different types. The censers were one of the most popular forms and were widely reproduced in the later Ming and Qing eras. Known simply as ‘Xuande censers’ many of these later pieces also bore the Xuande mark. Original marks are distinguished by characters that are complete and smooth, set against a background that is the same colour and luster as the vessel itself. This piece may date to the later Ming period and is noteworthy for its fine casting and finish.

The gold-splash decorative technique is striking for its modern aesthetic. It was achieved by a process known as fire-gilding, now banned because of the poisonous fumes emitted during the procedure. A gold and mercury amalgam was applied to the surface and then the vessel was heated to drive off the mercury leaving behind an extremely thin film of gold. This process was sometimes repeated to build up thicker layers. In this case the splashes are charmingly irregular and densely spaced, adding to the beauty of this remarkable object.


Rose Kerr, Later Chinese Bronzes, (London, 1990), esp. p. 39.

Philip K. Hu, Later Chinese Bronzes: The Saint Louis Art Museum and Robert E. Kresko Collection, (2008), esp. pp. 137-141. - (FZ.388 B)


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