Collection online

censer

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    2011,3041.1

  • Description

    Censer of copper alloy in the form of a four-armed flying male celestial figure who carries above his head, in his two upper hands, a hinged spherical vessel (one of the upper arms is now broken at the elbow). The vessel is pierced at the top to allow for the exit of aromatic smoke resulting from burning incense powder or resin inside the covered bowl. The figure bends on his left leg with the foot bent back beneath the body, while the right leg is thrust out behind; this would have formed the beginning of the handle but everything from the right knee downwards is now lost. The figure is clad in a dhoti which is clearly visible around the knees and lower legs, while over his left shoulder, the sacred thread (yajnopavita), is shown.

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  • Date

    • 9thC-10thC
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 19.2 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Censers feature in temple ritual as the conveyors of sweet-smelling smoke to the image of the deity (this is the offering of the sense of smell, just as lamps in the arati ritual, provide the offering of the sense of sight).

    The figure is solid-cast using the lost-wax process; the censer-bowl is hollow-cast.

    Floral imagery, so appropriate for this type of temple utensil, is apparent throughout, as follows:

    1 – the figure kneels on his left knee on a lotus pedestal with downward-pointing petals (twelve full petals in total, but with one at the back missing; in between and below each full petal, a smaller one is visible)

    2 – in his hands, joined in the posture of supplication and greeting, anjali mudra, further lotus blossoms are held

    3 – hanging over his shoulders across his elbows and down to the bended knee is an intricately depicted garland (vanamala).

    4 – upper-arm bands, one on each arm, are decorated with fully-open flowers

    5 – flowers decorate the typical Kashmiri three-part crown, and floral garlands hang from it on to the shoulders of the figure

    6 – where the crown meets the ears there are fully open blossoms, as is common in medieval stone and bronze sculpture from Kashmir

    7 – the vessel, which the celestial figure carries above his head is, on the lower part, decorated with a lotus-petal design while the upper part bears a lush floral scroll

    8 – the finial is set on the top of the vessel within a full-blown flower and the nozzle through which the incense passes is in the form of an opening flower.

    In the very extensive bibliography for this sculpture, there has been some slight variation in the date suggested for it, but all scholars have placed it within the 9th-10th century bracket and thus mostly within the period of rule of the Utpala dynasty (856-939 AD). The accomplishment of the bronze casting and the iconography, all unequivocally place the production of the sculpture in, or close to, the Kashmir valley.

    The last owner of the censer, wrote one of the most important articles about it (Digby 1991). In that article, Simon Digby identified the celestial figure as the leader of the gandharvas, the band of musicians and servers who attend on the gods. The name Puspadanta or Flower-teeth (ie. flowers carried between the teeth) for this figure was suggested by Digby. His identification is based 1) on the medieval text, the Mahimnastava where Puspadanta is described, and 2) the placing of the composition of the text in Kashmir. The linkage between this flower-bedecked image and the flower-thief who, in the text, is described as an aerial figure carrying floral offerings to his Lord, Shiva, makes convincing reading. In the same article, Digby relates the censer to the figures found on the massive back-plate from Devsar, now in the Sri Pratap Singh Museum, in Srinagar, and dated to the 10th century. He also notes that, like the back-plate, the censer has probably been buried at some time in the ancient past, thus accounting for the loss of both the lower right leg and the handle of the censer. This doubtless also explains the greenish patina and the lack of any evidence of significant smoothing of the image; such smoothing is frequently seen on images and utensils which have been in temple use over many centuries. He speculates that, when complete, the censer would have had what he called ‘a recurved handle’, ie. a handle arched away from the figure and thus able to balance the significant weight of the censer itself.

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  • Bibliography

    • Digby 1991 bibliographic details
    • Blurton 2012 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    2011

  • Acquisition notes

    This important bronze sculpture has been known of and published since the 1950s. When first discussed it was already in the collection of the famous American connoisseur of Indian art, George Bickford who was resident in Cleveland. It was probably acquired by its most recent owner, Simon Digby, in the 1980s. The Art Fund paid £30,000 of the total cost; the Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund paid the remainder.

  • Department

    Asia

  • Registration number

    2011,3041.1


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Object reference number: RRI43429

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