Name of Object:

Incense burner


Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow Museums

About Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow Museums, Glasgow

Date of Object:

Hegira 9th–10th century / AD 15th–16th century

Museum Inventory Number:

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Brass engraved with tar inlay.


Diameter 16 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Damascus, Syria.


A globular incense burner that is made up of two interlocking hemispheres; inside one of the two halves is a mechanical structure consisting of a small bowl for holding incense and charcoal, which is suspended in the centre of the globe by two concentric rings. The rings are connected with each other in such a way that each is able to move independently, keeping the small bowl of incense and charcoal upright in a horizontal position regardless of how the globe is positioned, moved or rolled. This mechanism is also known as the 'Cardan suspension'. The outer surface of the globe is embellished with interlaced arabesque decoration inlayed with a tar substance. Both halves are perforated to allow air circulation and incense dissemination.

The origins of this type of incense burner are believed to be in China, where such globes were suspended from the ceiling, taking advantage of better ventilation and better exhalation of the burned incense. Early Islamic globes were suspended too. Later on they were rolled around the floor, and passed on from person to person. Once the Europeans discovered their value as hand-warmers, the Venetian merchants started to commission such pieces for the European market. Some were individually commissioned depicting European coats of arms.

View Short Description

This globe is an incense burner from AH 10th- / AD 16th-century Syria. Inside there is a mechanical device that holds a small pot for incense and charcoal. When the globe is rolled on a table or the floor the incense pot remains horizontal. Mediterranean Europeans loved these and used them as hand-warmers.

How date and origin were established:

Artistic analysis and comparison with other examples made for the European market during the 9th–10th / 15th–16th centuries.

How Object was obtained:

Donated by The Governors of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College in 1902.

Selected bibliography:

Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993.

Citation of this web page:

Noorah Al-Gailani "Incense burner" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;uk;Mus04;25;en

Prepared by: Noorah Al-GailaniNoorah Al-Gailani

Noorah Al-Gailani is Curator for Islamic Civilisations at Glasgow Museums, Scotland. With a BA in Interior Design from the College of Fine Arts, Baghdad University and three years' experience in design and folk art preservation, she moved to the UK in 1992. On completing her MA in Museum Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London in 1994, she worked as Project Officer at the Grange Museum of Community History documenting the presence of Muslim communities in the London Borough of Brent. In 1995 she was Assistant Curator, Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, and in 1996 became Curator for John Wesley's House and the Museum of Methodism in London. She co-authored The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories and Celebrations (Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 2002) for non-Muslim children. Since 2003 she has been based at The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, working across the city's museums to interpret Islamic art and culture, ancient and modern, through research, exhibitions and educational activities.

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: UK4 29


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period


On display in

Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

The Mamluks | Everyday life in the Mamluk Sultanate

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