Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Spittoon or Incense Burner

Object Name:
late 16th–early 17th century
Attributed to India, Deccan, Bijapur or Golconda
Brass; cast in sections, joined, engraved
H. 9 in. (22.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2007
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 464
Such baluster-shaped vessels are seen in paintings from the Deccan and Mughal periods, most often on the ground at a royal gathering or held by an attendant. One is included in the nearby painting Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Venerates a Sufi Saint. The spiral fluting is fairly typical of Deccani metalwork, though surviving examples in this shape are exceedingly rare.

Similar cup-shaped vessels can be seen in paintings from the Sultanate and Mughal periods, most often on the ground at a royal gathering, as in Siesta (Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, no. T.4595, fol. 36) or in the hand of an attendant near an esteemed dignitary, as in Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Venerates a Sufi Saint (Trustees of British Museum, London, no.1997,1108,0.1). The use for this type of vessel is not certain. It may have been a spittoon, an accessory for the practice of chewing betel nut (pan), a digestive aid that also refreshed the mouth. In fact, in the Deccan these vessels were sometimes called ugaldan, from the Urdu "to spit out."[1] Vessels of this shape were also known to have served as incense burners, perfuming the air during royal assemblies.

The inclusion of these lavish objects in royal scenes indicates that their display no doubt had a ceremonial purpose, signifying the grandeur of a prince. Other paintings demonstrate how these cups were paraded in a procession, along with other ceremonial objects including ‘alams (standards), chhatris (ceremonial umbrellas), and the mahi-maratib (fish standard, this cat. 180, Furusiyya Art Foundation).[2] In a Persian tradition well known through text and iconography, the cupbearer was an esteemed position crucial to the king’s safety. As a high-ranking officer, he served drinks at the royal table and guarded against poison in the king’s cup. Confidential relations with the king often gave him great influence, and depictions of cupbearers in Persian art are well documented.[3]

Courtney A. Stewart in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)


1- Zebrowski, Mark. Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India. London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King. 1997, p. 179.

2- For the cups in procession scenes, see Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II in Procession (this cat. 47, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Lent by Howard Hodgkin (LI118.121). For the other ceremonial objects, see Sadiq Naqvi. Qutb Shahi Āshūr Khānās of Hyderābād City. 2nd ed. Hyderabad: Bab-ul-Ilm Society. 1987, p.11.

3- See, for example, a twelfth-century brass figure in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (no. 68.67).
[ Art market, England, ca. 1985]; Private collection, London, England (ca. 1995); Alvin O. Bellak, Philadelphia, PA (ca. 1996); [ Terence McInerney, from ca. 1997–2007; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 51.

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 51, p. 128-129, ill. pl. 51 (color).

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