What is a censer? A censer is a vessel made to hold burning incense, they come in many shapes and sizes and are made from a great variety of materials, including porcelain, stone, cloisonné and bamboo.
Incense in China is used for many activities, including religious ceremonies, traditional medicine and ancestor veneration. Incense was used from Neolithic times and gaining prominence from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasty’s. It reached its peak during the Song dynasty where the nobility went to the extent of building special rooms for the use of incense ceremonies. The Chinese word xiang not only means incense, but also fragrance, scent, aroma, perfume and spice.
Root wood carving is a traditional craft in China, the artwork is carved out of natural tree roots, where the craftsman makes the best use of the original shape of the root. Chinese root carving has been traced back to the warring state period (474 – 221 BC.) Where talisman and horn-shaped pieces have been unearthed from ancient tombs in Hubei province.
- How can you tell if a Chinese vase is antique?
- How do you identify Chinese porcelain marks?
- How do I know if my porcelain is valuable?
- How to identify unmarked Chinese porcelain?
The question above are by far the most common questions I receive week in and week out. Hopefully this guide below will help answer some of your questions regarding Chinese antique porcelain.
The Chinese ceramic industry has drastically changed over the last hundred years. In the modern era, Chinese potters accept influence from a range of different cultures and nations. This makes antique Chinese porcelain a source of fascination.
Identifying Chinese porcelain is a very specialist skill set. Multiple factors must be reviewed with an expert eye. These begin with the shape of the item and conclude with the mark. Any collector of Chinese porcelain will leave the latter for last.
- Shape of the item
- Colour palette
- Decorative style
- Base and foot of the item
- Glazed finish
- Signs of ageing
- Any marks on the item
These tests will confirm the item is a genuine Chinese antique, and during which era it was made.
The Chinese fingernail guard came from the time of the Qing dynasty. For having long fingernails was a sign of power and beauty and wearing fingernail guards protected the nails.
The fingernail guard would be worn as a single piece, or in pairs or more on the hands. They were worn by the elite of the Manchurian court ladies, of the latter part of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912)
Late Qing rulers pursued a life of great luxury, and a lady took great care to emphasise her nails, for they were a sign of her ability to rely on her servants and to show she did not perform manual tasks. Usually they were worn on the little finger and the ring finger.
Earlier in China c 3000BC. Long fingernail were also a sign of status and power, but before the finger guard, Chinese high born ladies used a coloured lacquer to not only colour their nails, but to also strengthen them. In the Zhou dynasty c 600 BC, Chinese royalty used gold and silver to enhance their nails. In the Ming dynasty red and black became the colours of choice. Red being used to signify top status.
The Yixing pronounced (E-Shing) teapot was the first vessel designed specifically for brewing tea during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644). The first Yixing teapots originated west of Taihu, the great lake in the Jiangsu province around 100 miles from Shanghai. They became a favourite of the Chinese intellectual class for their naturalism in both material and form. The distinctive reddish stoneware teapots came to be considered the best for brewing tea.
The oldest identifiable Chinese soapstone sculptures are dated to more than 3000 years ago.
The Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) saw the height of soapstone production in China. Soapstone was not only used for art it was also used to make dishes, utensils, plates, teapots and boxes.
Soapstone colour’s range from white, black, grey, purple, pink, greens, red and brown. It is a soft high talc content stone and can easily be scratched with a knife blade or even your fingernail. Soapstone varies in hardness from 1 – 5 on the Mohs scale.
The amount of talc can range from 80% (very soft) to around 30% and soapstone was used for the carving of many subjects, from Buddha to Zhong Kui. A very versatile stone.
Stones from Qingtian, currently Zhejiang province are called Qingtian stone. Carvings of the stone originated in the Kanze period of 5000 years ago. Historic Qingtian stone carvings has been unearthed in a tomb of the southern and northern dynasties period (420-581).
By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279) artists had made use of the moderate hardness of the stone with its colours and texture to bring in the multi-layer carving techniques.
Some believe that the ruyi scepter came to China along with Buddhism, in the eastern Han period (25-220 BC.) originally a monks tool for scratching ones self. Ruyi literally means “as desired” (as you wish). There are three types of ruyi, the early one was a slender stick, varying from 15 – 24 inches, which widened and curved at one end.
Hats were an important part of official dress in all levels of government, and the finial worn on a hat was an indication of the wearers rank. The significance of the hat for military or civil officials is shown by the way the hat comes first in the regulations stipulating the correct dress code for court. Easily identified hat finials were introduced in 1727 by the Yongzheng emperor and were worn on all official and public occasions. In 1730 regulations were introduced to allow the use of coloured glass instead of precious stones.