Islamic Bronze Incense Burner in the Shape of a Feline

Islamic · ca. 11th Century A.D.




L: 27 cm

H: 27 cm





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This finely pierced bronze censer, or incense burner, is a beautiful example of the highly stylized animal statuary typical of Persian art. The piece was cast by the lost wax process and is composed of two distinct elements made separately, the body and the head. It opens at the base of the neck, where the head is attached by a hinge on the animal’s chest. This opening would have allowed the perfumed incense to be placed inside the entirely hollow body. The censer represents a feline, a lion or more probably a desert lynx, or caracal, in view of the rendering of the ears. This hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that this animal, called siyah gush in Persian, when captured young and tamed (A’lam 1988), was a favorite hunting companion of the Seljuq princes (Khalili 2004, p. 216). The head is beautifully modeled. The almond-shaped eyes are pierced, the ears carved in the round, while the nose, the mouth and the four fangs are in simple relief. The eyelashes and the whiskers, also in relief, are finely incised. The top of the head and also each side of the mouth are decorated with a pierced heart-shaped motif. Below each ear, an engraved circle encloses a lattice pattern in openwork. The upper body of the animal, from the neck to the mid-thighs, is pierced with openwork in the shape of floral motifs, which allowed the perfumed smoke to escape and spread. The legs are also highly stylized, rendered in the round, with only gentle bulges in relief indicating the articulations. The tail, often seen on the closest parallels, is now lost. Our feline shows all the distinctive features of Persian art. It is obviously inspired by calligraphy and arabesques, in which stylized motifs are used copiously, as if to avert a sort of horror vacui, or fear of empty space. The stylized elegance of this masterpiece also bears witness to the adaptation of the great artists to religious prohibitions, representations of human beings and animals being strictly forbidden. By the use of openwork geometric and plant patterns, the artist clearly shows that his aim was not to imitate living beings. Animal-shaped censers are among the most renowned pieces in Islamic and especially Persian metalwork. It is unanimously admitted that the lion housed in the Hermitage Museum (Loukonine and Ivanov 1995, nos. 100-101) is the perfect archetype of this large group.


Given their refinement, they might well have been produced by the famous Herat blacksmiths, who were considered as the best craftsmen in the Seljuq Empire.


Complete and in excellent condition. Surface largely covered with a green patina.


Art Market, prior to 2004;

Ex- private collection; acquired on the American art market, 2004.


CHAMAY J., Objets d’exception (Fondation Martin Bodmer), Geneva, 2010, pp. 30-31.


Les Animaux dans L’Antiquité, March 2004, number 91

Xème Biennale des Antiquaires de Paris, September 2006, cat. expo. no 13 ;

Fondation Martin Bodmer, Orient-Occident – Racines spirituelles de l’Europe, Cologny (Geneva), 21 November 2009 to April 4th, 2010.


K. VON FOLSACH, Islamic Art, The David Collection, Copenhagen, 1990, p. 182ff, pl. 308.

H. SABAH AL-SALIM AL-SABAH, Masterpieces of Islamic Art, Dâr Al âthar al Islâmiyyah, Kuwait, 1990, p. 13, pl. 8.

V. LOUKONNE/ A. IVANOV, L’Art Persan, Saint-Petersbourg, 1995, p. cat. No. 100 and 101.

About Islamic Art:

A.PAPADOPOULO, L’Islam et l’Art Musulman, Ed. Citadelles & Mazenod, Paris 1976, p. 193, pl. 410-411