Name of Object:

Incense burner


London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

The British Museum

About The British Museum, London

Date of Object:

Hegira 596–647/ AD 1200–1250

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Engraved, moulded brass inlaid with silver and gold.


Height 20 cm, width 12.5 cm, depth 12.5 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Syria or northern Mesopotamia.


A circular incense burner with a hinged domed cover, standing on three curved feet in the form of stylised horse hooves. The cover is pierced to emit smoke. Christian figures with haloes, some carrying Christian liturgical items that include a cross and censer, inhabit the lobed arches around the body and cover; all but one is facing in a clockwise direction. Both the male and the female figures wear a long-sleeved gown which reaches almost to the ankles, with a shawl draped over the right shoulder. All the figures are bare-headed except for the one holding a cross who wears a turban. The medallion that does not contain a figure and which stands between two inhabited arches, was probably once the place of a handle. There is a benedictory inscription in kufic script around the apex of the lid to an anonymous owner. This burner belongs to a group of metal objects with Christian figures made during the Ayyubid period that may have been intended for either Muslim or Christian patrons. Given the fine quality of this burner it was evidently not a mass-produced household object but was more likely to have been created for a wealthy patron. The shape of the burner stems from the Byzantine tradition which continued to be popular in both Egypt and Syria during the 13th and 14th centuries.

View Short Description

This incense burner is one of a group of inlaid metal objects with Christian figures made in Syrian or Mesopotamian workshops. It could have been commissioned for either a Muslim or a Christian patron.

How date and origin were established:

Both the technique and decoration resemble several metal objects produced in Mosul and Syria in the 13th century, including objects such as the Blacas Ewer made in Mosul in 1232 (now in the British Museum), or a candlestick made in Syria in 1248–9, (now in the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris).

How Object was obtained:

Bequeathed by John Henderson in 1878.

How provenance was established:

The technique and decoration on this burner can be compared to that of other metal objects produced in Mosul and cities in Syria in the 13th century. The similarity of technique and style between the metalwork of northern Mesopotamia and Syria is due to the movement of metalworkers from Mosul to Syria in search of work under the Ayyubid sultans. For example, a ewer in the Louvre in Paris (dated AH 657 / AD 1258) was made by Husain Ibn Muhammad of Mosul for the Ayyubid Sultan Salah al-Din Yusuf, who ruled from Damascus.

Selected bibliography:

Baer, E., Ayyubid Metalwork with Christian Images, Leiden, 1989, fig.1, p.15–20.

L'Orient de Saladin au temps des Ayyoubides, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2001, cat. no. 96, p.113.

Citation of this web page:

Emily Shovelton "Incense burner" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022.;ISL;uk;Mus01;13;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 16


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