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By the Eastern Han period (when the Han capital was located in present-day Luoyang, Henan province), Chinese potters had discovered the efficacy of using lead-fluxed glazes for their ceramic burial wares. As a fluxing agent, lead oxide lowers the melting point of a glaze, reducing the amount of fuel required for firing. Copper and iron metal oxides were added to the glaze to impart the green and brown colors reminiscent of bronzes with different patinas; they were thus especially useful for glazing ceramic wares that imitated more expensive bronze ritual vessels. The decorative elements on these objects—mystical mountains with swirling clouds, mythical beasts, immortal figures, and bear-form supports—are associated with cosmological realms of immortals and closely replicate the relief ornamentation on sumptuous Han bronzes. Although the tombs of the most wealthy and important Han personages continued to be furnished luxuriously, ceramic reproductions of expensive burial goods and tomb sculptures representing animals, servants, and entertainers became acceptable substitutes for real objects and living creatures.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Mountain form censer (boshanlu)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 漢 绿釉陶博山爐
Work Type
1st century BCE – 1st century CE
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Han dynasty, 206 BCE-220 CE
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Earthenware with green lead glaze
Lead glaze
H. 23 x Diam. 14.8 cm (9 1/16 x 5 13/16 in.)
[J. J. Lally & Co., New York, March 2001] sold; to Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation, Woodside, CA (2001-2006), partial gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2006.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial gift of the Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation and partial purchase through the Alvan Clark Eastman Bequest Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Incense burner with conical lid in the form of a mountain peak, bowl-shaped receptacle supported on a short stem, and attached circular tray as the base; the cover pierced with triangular openings around the side and decorated with hunters pursuing animals, including tigers, bears, and large reptilian beasts; red earthenware with lead-fluxed, emerald-green glaze.
Compare to:
(1) Green lead-glazed boshanlu censer of closely related form and decoration excavated in 1984 from a Xin dynasty (9-23 CE) brick tomb near Mount Tieta in Xin’an county, Henan province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 5 (2002): 34-35, figs. 4 and 6.
(2) Censer of similar form and decoration in the Art Institute of Chicago collection attributed to the Western Han period (accession no. 1924.239). See Kiyohiko Munakata, Sacred Mountains in Chinese Art (Champaign, Ill: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois Press, 1991), cat. 23, pp. 78-79.
(3) Censer of similar form and decoration attributed to the Western Han period in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco collection (accession no. B60P203). See He Li, Chinese Ceramics: The New Standard Guide (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996), no. 55, pp. 71 and 111.
Exhibition History

32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at