An impressive Chinese bronze incense burner with brown patina, the cover depicting Shoulao (Shouxing), god of longevity, late Ming dynasty, reign of Wanli (1572-1620), 17th century. on a Chinese tripartite hardwood stand of posterior manufacture from the 18th / 19th century.
By its unusual size and the design of its cover, the god of long life Shoulao (Shouxing in pinyin), this bronze incense burner was obviously intended to decorate an important Taoist temple. The elaborate motif of the cover makes it possible to date it precisely because Shoulao was a dominant figure in the religious life of the last emperors Ming, Jiajing (1521-1566) and Wanli (1572-1620), who favored Taoism and its promise of earthly immortality. more than Buddhism and its ethereal Nirvana.
The god of Long Life, with his characteristic bulbous head, is represented holding a scroll which clearly refers to Taoist knowledge and more precisely to the famous "Tao Te King", a work by Lao Tseu who listed the canons of the Tao (the Way) circa 600 BC The sage has a smiling face and is accompanied by a deer, a turtle (two animals believed to live a long time), a monkey which expresses intelligence and a goose which symbolizes the lasting union. A small incense burner is placed in front of him, a sign of the offerings which are rightfully theirs.
A three-part stand carved of a very high quality hardwood was built to support this important and heavy perfume burner, with a nevertheless later decorative optic, probably at the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century, proof that this object of the Ming dynasty was then considered sufficiently valuable by the Chinese of the following dynasty to be withdrawn from its ritual use, to burn incense in a temple to honor the Taoist gods and saints, and that it was preserved as a relic worthy of admiration.
There are indeed few large bronze incense burners from the Ming dynasty because most were melted down to make weapons. The vast majority of bronze censers bearing Ming marks are in fact later duplicates executed for the pleasure of the literati in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular those of modest size, and this very large specimen, a survivor of the raids of the Ming on the metals used in their interminable clan wars, must have seemed invaluable to the point that a large stand such as those found under the Qing dynasty was made for it to support imperial perfume burners in cloisonné, jade or porcelain, this point deserves to be noted.
Finally, what makes this censer particularly rare is that it has kept its original cover, pierced with a discreet hole in the small incense burner just placed at the feet of Shoulao, with the aim of channeling the fumaroles of incense at this precise location. So one could have the impression that the clouds of incense emanated from Shoulao himself and from the miniature perfume burner placed in front of him, and at the same time, the incense smokes surrounding the Shoulao figure paid homage to his effigy : a striking mirror effect maliciously intended by the founder of this bronze which appears to be exceptional for more than one reason.