Ceramics - Celadon
life in society - life in ceremony - religious ceremonies - the smoke of incense
H. 21.2cm, (mouth) D. 11.1cm
National Treasure 60
- Accession Number
Incense burners are usually made out of metal, but with the advance of celadon techniques, some celadon incense burners were produced. Many incense burners had lids that were decorated with animals, either real animals such as lions, mandarins, and ducks, or imaginary creatures like dragons. Another imaginary creature sometimes used to decorate incense burners was the qilin (or kirin), as seen on this piece. According to Xuanhe Fengshi Gaoli Tujing (宣和奉使高麗圖經), a 40-volume text published in 1124, written by Xu Jing (徐兢), an envoy from China’s Song Dynasty, a metal incense burner with an animal-shaped cover was used at an official royal event. Sanghyeong celadon vessels (ceramics shaped like people, plants, or animals) were primarily produced in the 12th century, the zenith of Goryeo celadon. The stunning beauty of the glaze color and the refined form of this incense burner demonstrate the exceptional quality of ceramics craftsmanship of the time. This incense burner has a lid shaped like a lion, which was believed to be a protector of Buddhism, and thus appears frequently in stone pagodas, stone lanterns, and other Buddhist ceremonial instruments. This lion has some very unique features: its right paw is resting on a Cintamani (a magic Buddhist jewel) and it has a bell hanging on its chest; the pupils of its wide, staring eyes are darkened with iron-brown underglaze; and its ears are tucked low, while its tail is curled up to its back. Xu Jing’s Xuanhe Fengshi Gaoli Tujing (see above) has a section called “Ceramic Incense Burner” that mentions a lion-shaped incense burner. According to Xu Jing, the “lion-shaped incense burner is glazed with a jade green color, and has an animal crouching on top, with lotus flowers supporting it. Among a wealth of wonderful articles, this one is the most magnificent.” This incense burner shows some differences from the one described by Xu Jing, but it is still highly significant in that it exemplifies the early 12th-century style of sanghyeong celadon incense burners, which were designed to resemble a person, plant, or animal.