Artistic Handcraft -Incense burner in the shape of a scandaroon (pigeon)

Material: Bronze 
Size: 17 x 25.5 cm 
Origin and time: Islamic area of the Mediterranean Sea, probably Sicily.
11th – 12th Century
Catalogue: Schätze des Aga Kahn Museum, AKTC
Inv. No. AKM 00603

In the Islamic world, censers still are commonly used to perfume people and to scent the indoor climate with a fragrant mixture of aloe, frankincense and ambergris, a custom dating back to ancient times. According to the historian al-Mas‘udi, guests of the caliph al-Ma’mun (813 and 833) were provided with an incense burner for them to get perfumed with the evaporating smoke before meeting the caliph. Swinging censers were made in many different shapes, including animal ones such as lions or birds, allegorically linked to paradise and fortune. The pigeon can be opened and filled with the help of a hinge-joint in the neck. The fragrant smoke traveled through openings carved out of the bird’s ptilosis. This masterpiece of medieval bronze casting represents a particular species of pigeon: the scandaroon. The name scandaroon refers to the Turkish city of Iskenderun, named after “Iskander” (Alexander the Great). This pigeon species originates from Iraq and spread to the west throughout the Mediterranean region. The form of the censer resembles other contemporaneous bird-shaped censers in Khorasan style; however, it is sculptured in a more massive way and the openings carved out are bigger. Colour and patination also differ from other contemporary objects. This incense burner was probably made in the late 11th or early 12th century in Sicily under the rulership of Arabian or Norman governors. Nevertheless, further research may suggest a different origin.AF