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Byzantine bronze incense burner depicting scenes from the life of Christ, Circa 400-600 AD

Conservation:  A crack on surface otherwise in good condition
Material:  Bronze
Dimensions:  55 x 10 cm
Provenance:  Archaeological Gallery, Israel, 2014. Export authorization from the Israel Antiquities Authority No. 5255701 with date 15/05/2014
Exhibited:  Ifergan Collection, Málaga (2018-2020)


On request
Ref m6066 Category Tags , ,

A solid cast bronze censer or thurible (-incense burner-), with a hemispherical shape and bulbous body, resting on a hollow, slightly flared foot, with a cylindrical rim with three projections with holes for hanging the chain, suspended from three chains attached to a six-armed hook.
The relief-relief body depicts scenes from the New Testament and the life of Christ, related to the holy places of the Holy Land: Annunciation (-Nazareth), Nativity (- Bethlehem), Baptism (- Jordan River), Crucifixion (a figure, Christ, in the centre with arms outstretched as if on a cross is flanked by two other similar figures, presumably the robbers of Matthew 27:38) and Resurrection (-Jerusalem). The representation is in high relief, with incised detail, in the typically Byzantine style and conceptual iconography. This is a rare type of censer, one of a group of about 100 such censers known in museums and private collections, most of which include five scenes, with only a few examples having more, up to nine. Scholars have dated this group of objects to between the 6th and 8th centuries and have located them in the Syria-Palestine area, although it is possible that production was more widespread.

This object belongs to a relatively large corpus of Byzantine censers from the 6th-7th centuries AD, many of them from Egypt, which depict vignettes from the life of Christ. Their iconography evokes Christian sacred history and the places to which medieval pilgrims travelled to commemorate these sacred events. Although usually identified as censers, such vessels could also serve as lamps if they were filled with oil and a holder for the wick was attached to the side of the bowl.
Censers were used for burning and dispensing incense. They were used in many contexts in the ancient world, but this censer proclaims their use as part of Christian liturgical ritual by depicting important scenes from the life of Christ.
In the Byzantine world, censers were used to burn incense both in domestic contexts to purify the home, protecting it from malevolent forces, and in liturgical ceremonies. Censers with scenes from the life of Christ have been found throughout the Byzantine world in Egypt, Syria and Turkey. This censer may have been used in liturgical ceremonies or for worship in the family home.

The burning of incense enhanced the spiritual character of the church interior. In the medieval church, as in some Christian traditions today, incense blessed by the priest was sprinkled on hot coals placed inside a censer, which was swung back and forth around the priest, the sacred objects in the sanctuary and the congregation during religious ceremonies. It was believed that the smoke of the incense floating in the air facilitated the ascension of prayers to heaven. In addition, the aromatic odour was believed to honour God and the saints, and attention was paid to the composition of the incense because each element (frankincense, myrrh, aloes wood) was considered to possess purifying powers.
The church was the centre of public religious life in the Christian communities of the Byzantine world. Among the rich furnishings of church interiors were crosses, lamps, censers and liturgical vessels of bronze, silver and gold.

Censers were an integral part of ancient Jewish and pagan rites and were introduced into Christian ceremonies during the early days of the Church. Instructions on the use of censers are present in the Old Testament or Torah: “He shall take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground aromatic incense and carry them behind the curtain” (Leviticus 16:12 NIV). Censers are also mentioned in the New Testament, so the use of censers goes back thousands of years, from the Old Testament through contemporary church services, particularly those of the high churches, to the New Testament.


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