Alligator Censer

Date: 7th–12th century

Geography: Costa Rica

Culture: Costa Rican or Nicaraguan

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: H. 23 7/16 x Diam. 12 1/2 in. (59.5 x 31.8 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.378a, b


The flare-footed, spherical bowl of this ceramic censer is enhanced, in silhouette, by the flamboyance of its chimney. Textured, appliqué bands encircle and emphasize the tall smoothness of the chimney. On the perforated cap rests an elaborate crested crocodilian. Smoke from the incense that was burned in the bowl escaped through the holes of the cap and from openings in the animal's body. The rhythmical texture of the appliqué visually unites it with the surface of the creature's body where the nubby portions are taken to represent the scutes of the reptile. Both textured appliqués and scutes are surfaced in white. The spiky crest that surrounds the head is customarily found in incensarios of this period. Crocodilians frequently appear in Costa Rican art, strongly suggesting the supernatural import of these creatures in ancient times.