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Work Eagle censer

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

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Eagle censer

© 1994 Musée du Louvre / Christian Larrieu

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Author(s):
Meurice Cédric

This large censer consists of a cassolette and metal lacework dome. The feet and top of the object are decorated with animals. Three hares support the lower section, while the eagle, its wings fully deployed, sits atop the piece. It holds a serpent in its beak, a unique feature in Coptic art. Although fragile, this extremely elegant piece is in good condition.

A Coptic liturgical object

This so-called "eagle" censer has been dated to the 9th century. It is part of a series of large, skillfully made works that reflect the importance of incense in the Coptic liturgy. It consists of several sections and is decorated with a skillful and dynamic combination of plants and animals. The flat-bottomed cassolette has open-work plant motifs. It consists of a base fitted with a handle. It is supported by three large-eared and leaping hares at regular intervals around the base; each one stands on its own small base.

A highly detailed object

The object could be placed on a surface and remain stable when it was not being carried. A large dome sits atop the cylinder and is decorated with the same pattern. It pivots around a hinge placed above one of the three hares. The censer is held shut by three palmettes, which are also decorative elements. Part of the object is particularly complicated as it features, in succession, a hare, the handle, and a palmette. The incense smoke floats out of the metal lacework on the dome. The dome is topped by a finial, decorated with a single eagle, its wings outspread. This emphasizes the dominant nature of this bird of prey, as does its position on the top of the object. The eagle has a long serpent in its beak. The foliage scrolls, palmettes, and bird feathers are underscored by incised lines.

The eagle and the serpent

The characteristics of the eagle (strength, grace, elevated sentiments) meant that this animal held a honored place in classical antiquity. When this king of birds was adopted by early Christians, it acquired additional symbolic meaning. The eagle atop this censer is not just a major decorative element. It symbolizes the victory of Christ and Christianity and can also be viewed as the victory of Good over Evil, especially given the presence of the serpent - which may be a unique example in Coptic art. The censer links this victory with the purifying virtues of incensing.

Bibliography

Bénazeth D., L'art copte, Musée du Louvre, Petits guides des grands musées, RMN, Paris, 1991, p. 6.
Bénazeth D., "Les encensoirs de la collection copte du Louvre", Revue du Louvre 4, 1988, p. 299.
Guide du visiteur Antiquités égyptiennes II, RMN, Paris, 2001, p. 104.
Bénazeth D., "Metalwork, coptic", The coptic encyclopedia 5, 1991, p. 1601.
Bénazeth D., L'art du métal au début de l'ère chrétienne, Paris, RMN, 1992, p. 27, 106, 107.
Bénazeth D., Catalogue général du Musée copte du Caire I. Objets en métal, Le Caire, 2001, p. 359, 361.

Technical description

  • Eagle censer

    8th-9th century

  • Bronze. Cast in several sections; metal lacework, incisions

    H. 28 cm; W. 17.8 cm

  • Purchased 1925

    E 11708

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Gallery of Coptic art
    Room B

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