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About This Artwork
Incense Burner in the Form of a Duck, Song dynasty (960–1279), 12th century
Qingbai ware; porcelain with underglaze molded and carved decoration
H. 19.1 (7 1/2 in.); diam. 15.1 cm (6 in.)
Gift of Russell Tyson, 1941.963
In its subtle elegance, this incense burner reflects the refined sensibility of Song dynasty China’s cultural elite—members of the imperial court as well as newly affluent and well-educated classes of merchants and government officials. The basin of this incense burner, elevated on a lobed foot, contains an artichokelike lotus that opens into two tiers of small, pointed petals and supports a delicately carved waterfowl. Fragrant smoke would have wafted gently from the bird’s mouth and from two holes perforated between its feet. As Song poets and painters praised incense for its efficacy in dissipating gloom and stimulating artistic creativity, connoisseurs treasured its accoutrements as luxurious domestic furnishings. Pieces displaying the extraordinary quality of this incense burner are attributed to the kilns at Jingdezhen in southeastern Jiangxi province, which later became China’s preeminent center for ceramic production.