11th century CE
Materials and technique
Bronze, inlaid with copper
Height 28 cm
Incense was used in the Islamic world to scent people and air alike with a fragrant mix of aloes (wood), frankincense and ambergris. Guests of the ninth-century caliph al-Ma'mun (r. 813-33 CE) were offered an incense burner to perfume themselves before meeting with him, according to the historian al-Mas'udi (Bloom and Blair 1997, p. 120). Metalwork incense burners were made in a variety of shapes including animal forms such as lions and birds, and the fragrant smoke was emitted through the pierce-work decoration of their bodies. Birds were associated with paradise and good fortune. This piece has turquoise bead eyes, thought to protect the owner from the evil eye and misfortune. This Khurasan-style bronze incense burner appears to be in the shape of a fighting cockerel with an interesting second bird head on its tail. It has an innovative design for an incense cup, a hemispherical bowl suspended under the belly, allowing the bowl to be filled but remaining concealed when the bird is set upright again.
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