Designed as an incense burner, this globe once hung from a chain. Inside the hinged body is a small cup, slung on three rings (gimbals) to stabilize the burning coal or incense in the suspended container. The inscription bands do not name the object’s owner, but repeat a string of epithets lauding him.
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Date:late 13th–early 14th century
Geography:Attributed to Syria, Damascus
Medium:Brass; spun and turned, pierced, chased, inlaid with gold, silver, and black compound
Dimensions:H. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm) H. with chain. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm) Diam. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:17.190.2095a, b
Spherical Incense Burner
A large number of medieval Islamic pierced-brass globes survive. Like the present example, the globes in this group are composed of two hemispheres. The walls of the hemispheres are usually decorated with inlays of metal or a black compound and perforated with small holes, usually arranged decoratively in groups corresponding to the inlaid design. Most of the globes were fitted inside with a small metal bowl attached to a set of gyroscopic rings that kept the bowl upright, whatever the position of the globe. The function of pierced globes has been the subject of some debate, and it is possible that not all of these objects had the same purpose. The smaller examples—some of which are only a few inches in diameter—may have been carried as hand warmers, with burning coal in the cup, or worn as pomanders containing perfumed substances. Larger globes, such as this one, are generally classified as incense burners, with the cup considered a receptacle for an aromatic substance. It has been argued compellingly that the cups may have held perfumed candles, which would have not only emitted a pleasing scent but also illuminated the perforations.
The designs on the two hemispheres of this globe mirror each other almost exactly. Around the rim of each, epigraphic bands alternate with sets of diamond-shaped cartouches filled with stylized vegetal motifs. A wide register of interlaced large and small circular medallions frames a Z-fret background and pierced sections with knotted openwork, vegetal motifs, or groups of confronted ducks. A smaller epigraphic band circles each hemisphere near its apex. This globe is fitted with a knob and suspension ring, but similar examples were designed without suspension fixtures so that they could roll freely on a surface. Inside, a cup is supported on gimbals, three concentric rings that pivot from their attachment point.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Sylvia Auld has catalogued sixty-four of them (Auld 2004, pp. 116–40).
2. Baer 1983, pp. 60–61.
3. Atil 1981, p. 58.
4. On thurification in early and medieval Islamic contexts, see Aga-Oğlu, Mehmet. Persian Bookbindings of the Fifteenth Century. Ann Arbor, 1935, pp. 28–29.
5. Ward, Rachel [M]. "Incense and Incense Burners in Mamluk Egypt and Syria." Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society 55 (1990–91), pp. 67–82.
6. Ibid., pp. 69, 78; Baer 1983, p. 60.
Inscription: At top and bottom in Arabic in thuluth script:
عز لمولانا الملك المالك العا / لم العادل المؤید المظفر المنصور/ المجاهد المرابط المثاغر الغازي
Glory to our lord, the king, the master, the wise / the just, the supported
[by God], the triumphant, the victorious, the defender [of the faith],
the warrior [at the frontiers], the warden [of the marches], the vanquisher
On top hemisphere, central band (same as above,
but with the following added after :(الغازي
رکن الاسلام والمسلمین
pillar of Islam and the Muslims
On lower hemisphere, central band (same as above,
with the following added after :(المسلمین
والملوك والسلاطین قاتل الکفر]ة[ داو]د؟[
the kings and the sultans, slayer of the infidels, Dawu[d?]
Translation by Annemarie Schimmel (28 Jan 1987):
Four bands of inscription, each reading: Glory to our lord, the sovereign, the king, the wise, the just, the God-aided, the victorious, the victor, the fighter for the faith, the defender of the border areas, the fighter of the outposts, the ghayzi (religious heroic fighter)
Upper half of central rim adds to the above: treasure (?) of Islam and the Muslims;
Lower half of central rim adds to all of the above: of kings and sultans, slayer of the infidels and [the heretics (left out for lack of space)].
The inscription read by Yassir al-Tabba as:
عز لمولانا الملک المالک العالم العادل المؤید/المظفر المنصور المجاهد المرابط المثاغر الغازي
در/رکنز الاسلام و المسلمین الملوک و السلاطین قاتل الکفرة وا
Translation by Yassir al-Tabba (1978):
-Top: Glory to our Lord the King, the Master, the Wise, the Just, the Aided, the Victorious, the Aided to Victory, the Fighter for the Faith, the Warrior, the Defender of the Outposts, the Conqueror
J. Pierpont Morgan (American), New York (until d. 1913; his estate 1913–17; gifted to MMA)
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Louvre Long Term Loan," April 28, 2004–April 27, 2006, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.
Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam : Art of the Mamluks (Nahadat al-fann al-islami fi al-ahad al-mamluki). Hartford, Connecticut: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. p. 58.
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 54, ill. fig. 38 (color).
Auld, Sylvia. Renaissance Venice, Islam and Mahmud the Kurd: a Metalworking Enigma. London, 2004. pp. 116–40.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 103, pp. 139, 154, ill. p. 154 (color).
Canby, Sheila R. "The Scented World : Incense Burners and Perfume Containers from Spain to Central Asia." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). pp. 125–26, ill. fig. 13 (color).
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