Name of Object:

Incense burner


London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

The British Museum

About The British Museum, London

Date of Object:

Hegira 675–7 / AD 1277–9

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Brass pierced and engraved and inlaid with silver.


Diameter 18.4 cm

Period / Dynasty:





A brass globular incense burner composed of identical hemispheres joined by a bayonet fitting, and with pierced holes through which the fumes from burning incense could escape. Gimbals inside the burner, cradle a small bowl which would remain in an upright position even when the sphere is rolled, a mechanism also known as ‘Cardan Suspension’. Spherical in shape this object resembles a hand warmer, but due to its large size and the loop at the apex, it was probably designed to be suspended from the ceiling or to hang from a chain and be swung to disseminate the incense.
Silver inlaid decoration, divided into four concentric circles, covers the surface. The rim of each hemisphere has an inscription band of silver inlay against arabesques. Above this row are five pierced medallions each containing a double-headed eagle, alternating with roundels filled with geometric motifs in a background of arabesque scrolls. At both ends of the sphere is another inscription band with a pierced medallion at the apex, containing a design composed of double-headed eagles and lion-headed masks.
The symbol of the double-headed eagle was a popular motif used on blazons by several Mamluk sultans. However, here it seems to be a decorative motif rather than a heraldic emblem. Towards the end of the AH 7th / AD 13th century the figurative motifs of Ayyubid metalwork were gradually replaced by titulature and heraldry according to the taste of Mamluk patrons. This object is a fine example of the growing popularity of inscribed titles on Mamluk decorative objects.
This object was made for Badr al-Din Baysari who is mentioned in the inscription at the apex. Baysari was one of the most prominent of the amirs in the early Mamluk period, as confirmed by the phrase ‘al-maqarr al-ali’ (‘the High Excellency’).

View Short Description

A large spherical brass incense burner with silver inlaid decoration. Medallions at either end show one of the Mamluk heraldic emblems, a double-headed eagle. This burner is inscribed with the name Badr al-Din Baysari who was a prominent amir in the early Mamluk period.

Original Owner:

Badr al-Din Baysari

How date and origin were established:

This object was made for Badr al-Din Baysari who is mentioned in the inscription at the apex of this lamp, also mentioned are the regnal titles of two of his Mamluk masters: al-Zahiri (officer of Sultan Baybars from 658–75 / 1260–77) and al-Sa’idi (officer of Sultan Baraka Khan from 675–7 / 1277–9). Al-Sa’idi – is a sign of allegiance to Sultan al-Malik al-Sa’id Baraka Khan (r. 675–7 / 1277-9), which indicates that the incense burner was probably produced during his reign.

How Object was obtained:

Bequeathed to the British Museum by John Henderson in 1878.

How provenance was established:

This incense burner was made for Badr al-Din Baysari, a confidante of Sultan Baybars and one of the most important Syrian amirs. Originally in the service of the last Ayyubid Sultan, Baysari was then employed by the Mamluks after the Ayyubids were overthrown. This object was, therefore, probably made in Syria where Baysari was based. Moreover, there was an active patronage of inlaid metalwork in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods in Syria.

Selected bibliography:

The Arts of Islam, exhibition catalogue, London, 1976, cat. no. 210.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington D.C., 1981, p.58–9.
Barrett, D., Islamic Metalwork in the British Museum, London, 1949, plate no. 22.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.110–1, fig. 87.

Citation of this web page:

Emily Shovelton "Incense burner" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020.;ISL;uk;Mus01;27;en

Prepared by: Emily ShoveltonEmily Shovelton

Emily Shovelton is a historian of Islamic art. She studied history of art at Edinburgh University before completing an MA in Islamic and Indian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since graduating she has worked on a number of projects at the British Museum. Other recent work includes editing and writing for a digital database of architectural photographs at the British Library. She is currently working on a Ph.D. on “Sultanate Painting in 15th-century India and its relationship to Persian, Mamluk and Indian Painting”, to be completed at SOAS in 2006. A paper on Sultanate painting given at the Conference of European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, held in the British Museum in July 2005, is due to be published next year.

Copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: UK1 32


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