Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Incense burner

Date:
ca. mid-1st millennium B.C.
Geography:
Southwestern Arabia
Medium:
Bronze
Dimensions:
H. 27.6 cm, W. 23.7 cm
Classification:
Metalwork-Vessels
Credit Line:
Gift of Dr. Sidney A. Charlat, in memory of his parents, Newman and Adele Charlat, 1949
Accession Number:
49.71.2
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406
This bronze incense burner from southwestern Arabia consists of a cylindrical cup set on a conical base. A rectangular architectural form suggesting a facade extends upward from the cup’s front. Its face is decorated with two serpents flanking a round disk set within a crescent, all in low relief. Cast separately, an ibex standing on a plinth projects from the front of the incense burner and may serve as a handle.

From the middle of the first millennium B.C. until the sixth century A.D., the kingdoms of southwestern Arabia gained considerable wealth and power through their control of the trade in incense between Arabia and the lands of the Mediterranean seacoast. Frankincense and myrrh, gum resins that are native to southern Arabia, were widely valued in the ancient world for the preparation of incense, perfumes, cosmetics, and medicines, as well as for use in religious and funerary ceremonies.

The importance of incense in the religion of southwestern Arabia is reflected in this object; the ibex and snakes are powerful apotropaic symbols representing virility and fertility, and were frequently associated with local gods. The disk-and-crescent symbol, likewise, probably represents the moon god, the chief god of their pantheon. Given this religious imagery, the building facade depicted here is probably that of a temple.

Adapted from, Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators (2010)
1920s, collection of Kaiky Muncherjee, Aden; 1931, bought by Joseph Brummer from Gazdar; [auction sale of the Estate of the late Joseph Brummer, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, May 11-14, 1949, no. 91]; acquired by the Museum in 1949, gift of Dr. Sidney A. Charlat, in memory of his parents, Newman and Adele Charlat.

“Exhibition of Six Thousand Years of Persian Art,” The American Institute of Iranian Art and Archaeology, New York, April 24–July 1, 1940.

“The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 3, 2000–January 14, 2001.

Rossini, Carlo Conti. 1927. "Dalle Rovine di Ausàn." Dedalo 7, pp. 746-747.

Bossert, Helmuth Th. 1930. Geschichte des Kunstgewerbes IV. Berlin: E. Wasmuth, p. 351, fig. 2.

Ackerman, Phyllis. 1940. Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art. New York: The Iranian Institute, p. 300, no. 1.

Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc. 1949. Part Two of the Notable Art Collection belonging to the Estate of the late Joseph Brummer. Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, May 11-14, 1949, lot 91, pp. 20-21.

Bossert, Helmuth Th. 1951. Altsyrien: Kunst und Handwerk in Cypern, Syrien, Palästina, Transjordanien, und Arabien von den Anfängen bis zum völligen Aufgehen in der griechisch-römischen Kultur. E. Wasmuth: Tübingen, no. 1352.

Barnett, Richard D. 1964. "A South Arabian Ivory Vessel." Eretz-Israel 7, pl. II.

Muscarella, Oscar W. 1988. Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 353-355, no. 476.

Morris, Edwin T. 1999. Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 16-17.

Evans, Jean M. 2000. The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West, exh. cat. edited by Elizabeth J. Milleker. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 83, p. 106.

Benzel, Kim, Sarah B. Graff, Yelena Rakic, and Edith W. Watts. 2010. Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image 24, pp. 98-99.
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