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Diameter: 18.400 cm
Bequeathed by John Henderson
ME OA 1878.12-30.682
Spherical brass incense burner
Mamluk dynasty, AD 1277-79
From Damascus, Syria
Made for Badr al-Din Baysari
Highly-scented incense was a valued commodity in medieval Islamic regions, and had been since ancient times when caravans laden with incense and other precious items travelled across Arabia. Different sorts and combinations of woods, resins, spices and animal secretions were burnt and various types of vessel evolved to be used as incense burners. Pivoted gimbals inside this burner hold the small bowl containing incense in an upright position even when the sphere is rolled. The pierced decoration allowed the smoke to escape, but, when lit from inside, it also added to the beauty of the vessel.
The inscriptions contain the name and titles of the amir Badr al-Din Baysari (died 1298) one of the most powerful figures within the Mamluk hierarchy. Immensely wealthy, he was famed for his extravagance and is said to have refused to drink from the same cup twice. The incense burner was probably destined for his palace in Cairo, one of the most splendid in the city, where it would have been rolled between his friends at private gatherings.
R. Ward, Islamic metalwork (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)