Worcester Antiques
Antiques & 20th Century Collectables

Chinese Incense Burner of Poet Du Fu riding his Mule

Chinese Bronze Censer

Censer in form of Du Fu riding his mule

Antique Chinese bronze figural incense burner (censer) of Tang Dynasty Poet Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770) riding side saddle on his caparisoned mule; with provenance. Two piece cast bronze censer with hand chased finishing, the incense burner body cast, with hollow body for burning incense, as a long pointed eared mule standing with its head outstretched towards the ground and in traditional Chinese harness and cloth saddle. The detachable figural cover cast as bearded poet Du Fu wearing long robes and a scholars cap and holding either the ribbon of his scholars cap or perhaps a simple ruyi sceptre.

Qing dynasty, 19th century or earlier provincial bronze alloy composition with copper filled casting plugs. Traces of original cold painted brown pigment applied to detail remain around mules eyes and parts of the harness and saddle. The saddle having cast details of two dragons chasing pearls of wisdom and Chinese WAN symbol.

Chinese incense burner poet du fu riding his mule
Chinese bronze incense burner of Du Fu riding his mule.

Typically for a Chinese bronze censer of this age, much of remaining bronze was left natural/unpatinated and the patina now is a desirable hard won natural aged bronze patina developed over the centuries. In regular use the bronze has rubbed at high points and the heating of incense and oils have played a part in both developing and arresting the patina in various places. Some details, especially where ones hand would fall on the figural cover, are softened from regular handling over time.


This, still functional, incense burner has been used over the last two centuries, there is evidence of compacted build up of incense ash and oils within the mule's chamber and also within the recess of the removable Du Fu cover; with an aroma of antique Chinese incense, more noticeable as the censer warms in the hand. There are marks one would expect at the natural contact points between the saddle and detachable figural cover.

The robes of Du Fu to the rear would have, at some point, extended a little lower over the rear saddle. Below the cloud shaped vent in the back of the robes the lower part has broken away. This happened some considerable time ago, as can be seen from the patina within the break line. The figural top does remain seated on the mule independently, however we applied some museum putty (picture 8) for a more secure position. The museum putty allows removal or adjustement without damage to patina.

6 inches high and 7 inches wide

Price £280 + p&p

Chinese incense burner of poet du fu riding his mule

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Qing dynasty Chinese incense burner in the form of poet Du Fu riding his mule Chinese 18th/19th Century Mule censer insence burner in cast bronze of Poet Du Fu in Scholars Cap riding side saddle atop his mule or donkey Rear of figural chinese bronze censor modelled as dignitary riding mule antique 18th centruy chinese censer with aperture for incense burner smoke figural censer chinese cloth saddle cast in bronze of two dragons chasing pearls of wisdom and Chinese WAN symbol chinese bronze incense burner with detachable Du Fu top removed, showing hollow cast bronze mule and old 18th century chinese incense ash detachable censor cover cast in bronze in form of chines poet du fu holding ruyi sceptre underside of du fu censer cover showing broken rear robe with century old patination on break line underside of chinese bronze mule censer showing natural patina

Du Fu 杜甫

Du Fu, also known as the 'Poet Historian’, is considered to be the greatest Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) during the golden age of Chinese poetry. Du Fu would often use the mule or ‘old nag’ as a metaphor in his poems for his own life. The mule, as the scholar-gentry, must travel tired and hungry from place to place and along perilous roads. The perilous road a symbol for the dangers of court life and political circumstances that he often found himself in. For this reason Du Fu is synonymous with the mule.


From the private collection of the late Dermot Levins; accomplished oriental collector, the majority of who’s collection was procured from distinguished London galleries and auction houses during the mid 1940's. Those of particular note: