| Incense burner

Late Dong Son culture
north Vietnam

Incense burner 2nd-3rd century
17.0 (h) x 20.0 (w) x 9.0 (d) cm
Musée Barbier Mueller, Geneva
© Musée Barbier-Mueller Photograph: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet


Elaborate incense burners were expensive luxury goods used only by powerful nobles. The mesh body of this burner allowed perfumed smoke, possibly scented with sandalwood or other fragrant timber, to permeate the air. The lid is decorated with a richly plumed bird, probably a phoenix or peacock, flanked by two smaller birds. Creatures of the upper realm, home to the ancestors, the birds provide an ideal complement to the handle in the form of a dragon, a beast of the underworld.

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