Incense burners of this li tripod form were produced at the Longquan kilns during both the Southern Song and the Yuan periods. See P. Hughes-Stanton and Rose Kerr, Kiln Sites of Ancient China, London, 1980, pp. 20 and 125, no. 97. They have been excavated from widely scattered sites in China from Jining in Inner Mongolia in the north (see Wenwu, 1979:8, pl. VI, no. 3), to the Song port at Dongmenkou, Ningbo in the southeast (see Zhejiang sheng wenwu kaogusuo xuekan, Beijing, 1981, pl. XI, no. 5), and Sichuan in the west, where a similar vessel was unearthed at Jinyu village, Nanqiang, Suining in 1991 (see Longquan Celadon - The Sichuan Museum Collection, Macau, 1998, pp. 210-11, no. 83). They were also greatly appreciated in Japan, where they are known as hakama-goshi, a reference to the similarity of their pouched leg to the appearance of someone wearing the type of loose trousers known as hakama. A Longquan example from the Idemitsu Museum of Arts was exhibited in Tokyo, Osaka and Hagi in 1999. See Song Ceramics, Tokyo, 1999, p. 110, no. 73. A number of these tripod censers were also found in the cargo of the Yuan dynasty Sinan ship, which foundered off the Sinan coast of Korea on its way to Japan such as the two examples illustrated in Cultural Relics from the Sinan Seabed, National Museum of Korea, Seoul, 1977, nos. 16 and 17. An example now in the collection of the British Museum has a delicate gold lacquer repair on its rim, suggesting that at one time it may have been in a Japanese collection. See S. Vainker, Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, British Museum, London, 1991, p. 111, pl. 81.
There are also examples of this Longquan censer form in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing. See The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 33 Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 135, 136, 139, 140-41, nos. 121, 122, 125, 126. A slightly larger Longquan tripod censer of similar construction in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum - Lung-ch'üan Ware of the Sung Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1962, p. 58, pl. 16. Three examples are also housed in the Percival David Foundation (accession numbers PDF 228, 276 and 279). One of these, formerly in the collection of the Imperial Family, is included in Illustrated Catalogue of Celadon Wares in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, rev. ed., London, 1997, p. 34, no. 228.
It is possible that the crackle in the glaze of the Barron censer was a deliberate attempt to imitate Guan wares. A number of Song vessels from the Longquan kilns were made in the style of Guan wares. Some of these were made with a dark colored body, others had a pale body similar to that seen on the Barron censer. While it is difficult to be sure whether a reference to Guan ware was intended in the making of this piece, it may be significant that a Guan ware vessel of the same form is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum: Kuan Ware of the Sung Dynasty, op. cit., pp. 48-9, pls. 19a, 19b, 19c. A Guan ware censer of this shape was also found at the Jiaotanxia kiln site in Hangzhou. See Nan Song Guanyao, Beijing, 1996, pl. XX, no. 2.
The form is based upon an ancient bronze shape, that was one of the vessels used to prepare food that formed part of the ritual offerings to ancestors in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, such as the five li vessels belonging to Wei Bo Xing and dating to the late Western Zhou excavated at Zhuangbai, Fufeng, Shaanxi province illustrated by J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, London, 1992, p. 350, fig. 231. When the shape was adapted for ceramic censers, its proportions were subtly altered to make it appear less heavy. The adoption of an ancient metalwork form for a fine ceramic vessel is in keeping with the growing interest in archaism current during the late Northern Song and Southern Song period. The Barron incense burner represents a particularly happy combination of fine Song potting and glaze with an archaic form.