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A RARE ARABIC-INSCRIBED BRONZE INCENSE SET
A RARE ARABIC-INSCRIBED BRONZE INCENSE SET
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A RARE ARABIC-INSCRIBED BRONZE INCENSE SET

MING DYNASTY, POSSIBLY OF THE ZHENGDE PERIOD (1506-1521)

Details
A RARE ARABIC-INSCRIBED BRONZE INCENSE SET
MING DYNASTY, POSSIBLY OF THE ZHENGDE PERIOD (1506-1521)
The incense set is comprised of a tripod li censer cast with a Zhengde four-character seal mark, a bottle vase with two loop handles, and a circular box and cover, all decorated with Arabic inscriptions reserved on fine ring-punched grounds. The metal has a warm reddish-brown patina.
The censer: 3 5/8 in. (9.3 cm.) high; the vase: 6 5/8 in. (16.8 cm.) high; 4 5/8 in. (11.5 cm.) diam., Japanese wood boxes
Provenance
A Japanese private collection, acquired in the 1990s

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Lot Essay

The Islamic inscrptions on these vessels may be translated as follows: ‘there is no God but Allah’ (censer), ‘glory be to God’ (vase), ‘all praise is due to God’ (box).

Incense burning served not only religious purposes, but also had more practical functions such as the fumigation of clothes. From the Song dynasty onwards, censers became an increasingly important element in the scholar’s studio as the burning of incense was thought to enhance the clarity of mind. The standard scholar’s incense garniture comprising a censer, tool vase and box, such as the present example, was developed in the Ming dynasty. The present incense set decorated with Arabic writings is often associated with the Zhengde reign (1506-1521), when Arabic inscription became a popular decorative motif on imperial porcelain. The majority of the Arabic inscriptions are religious or philosophical in content and many of these are quotations from the Qur’an, such as that on the blue
and white porcelain table screen in the collection of Sir Percival David, the inscription on which comes from Surat al Jinn (LXXII)(illustrated by R. Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration – Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, p. 70, no. 68). A number of other inscriptions are secular and either indicate the item’s functionality, such as ‘pen rest’, or are mottoes, such as ‘Strive for excellence in penmanship, for it is one of the keys of livelihood.’ It is believed that these porcelain pieces were produced under the influence of powerful Muslim eunuchs in the imperial court. It is interesting to note that incense burning was also a popular practice among Muslims in their religious ceremonies.

A very similar incense set is illustrated by Liu Xirong, Zhongding mingxiang (3): Rongzhai qinggong zhenshang, Beijing, 2013, pp. 94-95. Compare also an Arabic-inscribed tool vase and an Arabic-inscribed box and cover, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, Drawn by the Senses, 26 November 2014, lots 2911 and 2912.

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