Incense burner of pierced and engraved brass inlaid with silver, with images of the planets within roundels, Mamluk, Syria, 13th century
Incense burner, Syria (Mamluk Sultanate, 1250–1517), Around 1280–90, Brass, hammered, pierced, chased and inlaid with silver. The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

Incense Burner

Syria (Mamluk Sultanate, 1250-1517), Around 1280-90

Aromatics were prized in the medieval Islamic world for ceremonial and personal use, and finely inlaid incense burners were used by courtiers and wealthy patrons.  This piece comprises interlocking hemispheres featuring the sun surrounded by personifications of the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. References to astronomy and the related, popular practice of astrology were customary decorative themes.

Originally this incense burner contained a small central cup (gimbal) to keep the fragrance and the coal heating it level. Incense burners came in different sizes and could be suspended from chains, held in the hand, or rolled across the floor from one person to another. This is one of the earliest, and possibly the smallest, incense burners known.

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Two men sit across from each other at a table covered with a brown tablecloth, playing cards. Both men wear overcoats and hats, and the man on the left smokes a pipe. They sit inside a wooden building. i Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) The Card Players, around 1892-96, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)

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