Name of Object:

Incense burner


Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)

About Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS), Edinburgh

Date of Object:

Hegira mid- to late 7th century / AD 13th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Cast and incised bronze with remains of silver inlay.


Height 16.51 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Syria or Iraq.


A bronze incense burner with a cylindrical body and projecting circular ridges at both top and bottom; the lower ridge is enhanced by a guilloche band. Three profiled legs that were originally longer and which once had projecting feet (now curtailed) support the object. The feet have small arabesque cartouches at the top and symmetrically disposed leaf scrolls at the bottom. The body is hollow and its upper aperture is closed-off by a solid plaque with a circular cavity in the centre.
The burner has a hinged dome-shape cover that is a crude modern replacement; this is topped by a skittle-shaped knob. Originally the lid would have screwed on to the body by means of a flange and ring. To the right of the hinge four crudely cut holes correspond to the tips of an incised quatrefoil which indicates the area where a long, horizontal handle would originally have been attached.
The incense burner is incised and has remnants of its original silver inlay, on both the body and lid. The finial on the lid is enhanced by an intertwining garland of lancet leaves pointing upwards to the top of the finial. A kufic inscription band runs around the base of the finial. It reads: ‘al-‘izz al-da’im wa’l ‘amr al-salim wa’l iqbal al za’id al-jadd li sahibihi’. (‘Enduring power and full life, continuous well-being and happiness to its owner.’). Below this, the remaining surface of the lid is enhanced by a broad decorative band enclosed by borders of geometric interlacing. Within these borders elongated and symmetrical arabesque designs, executed in openwork, alternate with roundels filled with geometric T-fret patterns.
The body of the burner is similarly decorated with a broad decorative frieze supported top and bottom by geometric interlacing. Within a succession of cusped arches six figures are enclosed set against a scrolling background. These arches with figures alternate with five symmetrically disposed arabesque designs. This design is interrupted once only by a large (but possibly not contemporary) quatrefoil. The figures, dressed in long, hooded garments, are shown upright and in profile, apparently walking towards the left, and each one supported by a long staff. All are identical in appearance apart from the figure to the right of the quatrefoil, who is bearded and whose body is bent over his staff as if he is elderly.

View Short Description

This incense burner with Arabic blessings and a frieze of hooded figures may have been used in a church. Objects combining Muslim and Christian elements were common in AH 7th- / AD 13th-century Syria and Iraq, where Christians, Jews and other religious minorities lived alongside their Muslim neighbours.

How date and origin were established:

Eva Baer (1989) has identified this object as belonging to a group of metalwork pieces with Christian themes executed in either Syrian or Mesopotamian workshops in the mid- to late 7th / 13th century.

How Object was obtained:

A Gift from the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in 1956.

How provenance was established:

Eva Baer (1989) has identified this object as belonging to a group of metalwork pieces with Christian themes executed in either Syrian or Mesopotamian workshops in the mid- to late 7th / 13th century.

Selected bibliography:

Baer, E., Ayyubid Metalwork with Christian Images, Leiden / New York, 1989, p.10.

Citation of this web page:

Ulrike Al-Khamis "Incense burner" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020.;ISL;uk;Mus03;11;en

Prepared by: Ulrike Al-KhamisUlrike Al-Khamis

Ulrike Al-Khamis is Principal Curator for the Middle East and South Asia at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. She began her academic career in Germany before completing her BA (1st class Hons) in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 1987. The same year she moved to Edinburgh, where she completed her Ph.D. thesis on “Early Islamic Bronze and Brass Ewers from the 7th to the 13th Century AD” in 1994. From 1994 to 1999 she worked as Curator of Muslim Art and Culture for Glasgow Museums and, in 1997, was one of the main instigators of the first ever Scottish Festival of Muslim Culture, SALAAM. Since 1999 she has been based at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, where she has curated several exhibitions and continues to publish aspects of the collections. In addition to her museum work she has contributed regularly to the teaching of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Edinburgh.

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: UK3 11


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Islamic Dynasties / Period


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Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Religious Life

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Calligraphy Metalwork


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