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Unidentified Artist, Censer (13th century)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Censer (13th century) by an Unidentified Artist.

About the Work

Title : Censer
Artist : Unidentified Artist
Year : 13th century
Medium : Bronze
Dimensions : censer only: 12 x 10 cm (4 3/4 x 3 15/16 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


A censer refers to a decorative container that holds incense, used for religious and ceremonial purposes.

In the Middle Ages, ceremonial objects such as the one depicted here were commonplace. With the Church supporting a large part of the arts and crafts industry, a lot of creative output was based on religious ritual and decoration. Taking on church commissions was a good way for artists to ensure a steady income. The materials used for such objects and works were the best of the best.

According to the digital archive of the Harvard Art Museums :

“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.”

This particular censer is believed to have originated in Germany.

Other Details

Unidentified Artist’s Censer is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2440. It is part of the museum’s collection of Medieval Art.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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