Cultures & Traditions

Censers (Braziers): Incense Burners in Mesoamerica

Decorated incense burners, sometimes referred to as braziers or incensarios, were used throughout Mesoamerica. Those used exclusively for the burning of incense are known as a censers. In Mesoamerica, censers were often used to burn rubber or copal (tree resin) as an offering to the gods and possibly to evoke rain clouds. The smoke from the incense would rise into the sky, creating billowing columns of scented black smoke. Though these vessels varied greatly in size, form, and material, the burning of incense had spiritual and religious connotations and often influenced the design and decoration of the censer. Various cultures since antiquity have used incense burning as a way to make offerings to deities or to facilitate communication with them. For example, in Buddhism incense is believed to purify a space, and in Christianity incense is often perceived as a symbol of a prayer rising into the heavens.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Head of the rain god (1967.5)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 51.

  • "Head of the rain god Tlaloc (1967.5)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 192.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1967.5], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • "Head of the rain god Tlaloc," DMA Connect, 2012.

  • Ken Kelsey, Gail Davitt, Mary Ann Allday, Barbara Barrett, and Dana DeLoach, DMA Teaching Packet, 1995.