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Spherical, dark metal censer with openwork lid and chains.

Spherical censer (ceremonial incense holder) in dark metal. The censer has two halves, the bottom being solid and the top having an elaborate openwork structure. The shapes of the carved top are mostly botanical, resembling leaves, vines, and hearts. They are arranged in nearly, but not perfectly, symmetrical sections. The censer has a tab with a hole in it on the top. At four points around the middle of the censer are raised holes through which long, thin chains are threaded. The four chains are attached to an X-shaped metal piece.

Gallery Text

Some of the most precious and finely wrought objects of the Middle Ages were made for use in the liturgical service of the church. Crosses and censers were carried in procession, while reliquaries, caskets, and shrines held the remains of saints or objects associated with them. Because of the sacred function of these objects, they were made of the most valuable materials available: ivory, bronze, enamel, rock crystal, and gold. Through their hallowed contents or their liturgical function, these objects provided access to the divine, yet they were also displays of wealth and craftsmanship. Censers and vessels were cast in bronze, while other objects, such as caskets and reliquaries, were assembled from a wooden core and covered with ivory, enamel, and gilded metal. Often, if such costly materials were out of reach, wood or other modest materials were painted and gilded to resemble them.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Unidentified Artist
Work Type
13th century
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2440, Medieval Art, Medieval Art
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Physical Descriptions

censer only: 12 x 10 cm (4 3/4 x 3 15/16 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Exhibition History

  • Medieval Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Jewett Arts Center, Wellesley, 11/21/1970 - 02/07/1971
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 2440 Medieval, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at