The present incense stand appears to be the only published hexagonal example in huanghuali. Incense stands, both in lacquer and hardwood, are seen in a variety of forms, including round, square, foliate, hexagonal and octagonal. Round incense stands appear to be the most commonly published examples and are often depicted in woodblock prints from the Ming dynasty. The present incense stand successfully balances an elegant design and complex carpentry. The angular top contrasts beautifully with the sensuous curves of the faceted, shaped cabriole legs, which terminate in finely delineated ruyi-form feet. The thickly beaded aprons and narrow waist are carved from one section of wood, and embellished with crisply carved, interlocking tendrils and writhing chilong. This rare design suggests a special commission from a wealthy and cultured individual, who could afford such luxury and masterful craftsmanship.
The Chinese have burned incense and aromatics since the Han dynasty. Censers were used for both secular and religious purposes and held a variety of aromatic substances, some to be burned as incense, others to more slowly release their scent. These censers were used to freshen interiors, and could be placed in imperial offices, private residences, places of worship or used outdoors. To support censers, incense stands became a standard piece of furniture for any individual who could afford luxury goods. Incense stands tend to be tall and symmetrical in form. They were generally placed away from the wall and centrally located within an interior space, to allow for the effective diffusion of scent. Though the name, incense stand, implies a specific use, Ming-dynasty prints show the incense stand used for numerous purposes, including the display of scholar’s rocks, flowers, and decorative objects.
The most similar in design and construction to the present incense stand are a pair of octagonal stands raised on four slender cabriole legs and a rectangular base stretcher: one is currently in the Shanghai Museum of Art and published in Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, vol. II, Hong Kong, 1990, p. 76, pl. B31 (Fig. 1), the other is illustrated by G. Wu in The Best of the Best: The MQJ Collection of Ming Furniture, vol. I, Hong Kong, pp. 72-73. A Qianlong-period zitan hexagonal incense stand, with an elaborately carved tall waist and faceted cabriole legs, in the Palace Museum collection and illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (II), Hong Kong, 2002, p. 174, pl. 156, compares closely to the present stand, but the more ornate details, choice of material, and the stiffness of the legs are more aligned to Qing-dynasty preferences. For an example of a circular incense stand with cabriole legs, dated to the seventeenth-century, see the huanghuali incense stand, (97 cm. high), formerly in the collection of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, sold at Christie's New York, 19 September 1996, lot 48. Another circular huanghuali incense stand, with cusped aprons and inward-curving legs, is published by N. Berliner in Beyond the Screen: Chinese Furniture of the 16th and 17th Centuries, Boston, 1996. pp. 136-37, no. 23.
A three-legged incense stand, formerly in the Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection, which is the pair to the huanghuali stand formerly in the collection of Wang Shixiang that is now in the collection of the Shanghai Museum, was sold at Christie’s New York, 16 March 2017, lot 613.