February 24, 2015

Sharing Beauty Series Part 1 – 19th Century Persian Incense Burner

Filed under: Sharing Beauty - Tags: , , , , , , , - Meezaan @ 5:26 pm

Following on from our last blog post about documenting and sharing beauty, we’ve decided to do a series in which we share an object documented in Vesica (with the relevant user’s consent, of course) in each blog post (at least once a month). This is the first post of such a series  of posts.

Antique Islamic Persian Engraved Pierced Brass Incense Burner

Photographs and description courtesy of Armando Aranjo

A large, beautifully detailed, hand hammered & chased ornate Middle Eastern ~ Persian brass incense burner from the 1800s. Hand engraved with a profusion of Persian garden and rug motifs interspersed with human courtly figures and numerous animals. Engraved and incredibly ornate all over with piercings.

The incense burner is beautifully crafted with deep relief and chase work and a beautiful patina. Exceptionally well designed and highly ornamented in very good antique condition. a very rare and fine piece.

Incense in the Islamic World

Incense was used in the Islamic world to scent people and air alike with a fragrant mix of aloes (wood), frankincense and ambergris. According to the historian al-Mas’udi, guests of the ninth-century caliph al-Ma’mun (r. 813-33 CE) were offered an incense burner to perfume themselves before meeting with him (Bloom and Blair 1997, p. 120). Metalwork incense burners were made in a variety of shapes, including animal forms such as lions and birds, which were associated with paradise and good fortune.1

Motifs, figures and animals in Islamic (Persian) objects

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Helibrunn Timeline of Art History states:

“With the spread of Islam outward from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, the figurative artistic traditions of the newly conquered lands profoundly influenced the development of Islamic Art. Ornamentation in Islamic art came to include figural representations in its decorative vocabulary, drawn from a variety of sources. Although the often cited opposition in Islam to the depiction of human and animal forms holds true for religious art and architecture, in the secular sphere, such representations have flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures.”2

Whilst this is true, at a lecture recently given by Dr. Michael Barry at SOAS ( explained the nature and purpose of courtly and animal figures in Persian courts and life, particularly with a view to explaining the Persian poetry, miniatures and related artefacts / objects. Objects and paintings were typically made with a specific person and purpose in mind, with animal motifs either showing you the gallantry of the recipient of the object or their bravery (in hunting scenes, for instance), with courtly figures shown in specific positions and situations to make a point (and this was particularly true with miniatures animating poetry).

It’s safe to assume that these craftspeople and artisans put a lot of thought into the work they did – and the reflection of beauty, abstract as well as manifest, was high on their list of elements that would define their work. If research of this nature interests you, I suggest you have a look at “The Canticle of the Birds” – in which Dr. Michael Barry analyses the many meanings of these motifs.


1. Aga Khan Museum -
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art -

August 7, 2011

V&A’s Jameel Prize 2011 is weak

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) happens to be one of my favoured larger London museums, but that’s not going to save this year’s Jameel prize. Whilst the Jameel Family and the Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) have done very well to raise awareness about Islamic Art and Craft (including their substantial donation for the Jameel Gallery at the V&A), the Jameel Prize 2011 is money wasted – something that would be better spent on preserving some of the traditional Islamic craft, or for that matter, helping feed people in the Horn of Africa.

Whilst it is no secret that I don’t really like contemporary or modern art, some of the quality of work shortlisted this year is just bad – and that’s the best thing I can say about it. Such contemporary art, when claimed that it is inspired by the traditions of Islamic craft and design, is simply insulting to those master craftsman who created some of the worlds most stunning textiles, calligraphy and architecture at the height of the Islamic Empire.

Contemporary artists sometimes fail to realize that the very basics of Islamic Art are about beauty, and I’m afraid that some of the works at this exhibition were far from being beautiful. Aisha Khalid’s ‘Name, Class and Subject’ , Hadieh Shafie’s ’22500′ paper scroll works or Soddy Sharifi’s ‘Frolicking Women’ are among the works included in the exhibition, and these suffer from the classic case of deficient contemporary art – don’t focus on making it beautiful, but write a fancy description about it. In fact, if you read the description provided for the works, some of them are plain wrong. Of Hadieh Shafie’s work, for instance, the V&A states that therein ‘the notion of meditative process, repetition and time  as found in Islamic art, craft and architecture is a constant element’. That’s actually quite inaccurate. Nothing about the Hadieh’s pieces in the exhibition represents this as it is done in Islamic Art. The application of the Breath of the Compassionate (or other such pattern) is representative of this meditative process and repetition, paper scrolls of varying sizes are not. Whilst I am not saying that the work is bad, it does not deserve any praise for its reference to a contemporary form of Islamic Art.

The exhibition wasn’t all bad, though. Some of the pieces were good – Aisha Khalid’s Kashmiri Shawl and Bita Ghezelayagh’s ‘Felt Memories’ tunic were some of the pieces that really stood out. Perhaps they were the least abstract of the lot and let their beauty and quality of work do the talking, which is what you would expect from a good work of art.

But don’t take my word for it – the exhibition runs until 25 September 2011. More information is available on

February 15, 2011

Painting Techniques Inspired by Ottoman Textiles

A workshop by Nausheen Sheikh


The Traditional Crafts are derived from the intertwining of wisdom (hikmah) and craftsmanship (fann or sinaah). Traditional textiles and costumes enable one to wander through the history of the world, from the rise of civilizations to the fall of empires, with a blend of diverse cultures, legends and religions.

Traditional textiles continue to resonate humble beauty and the substance of art is beauty and this is a Divine quality.

Join Nausheen Sheikh, Director of Research and Documentation – Islamic Art and Textiles at Vesica, for a workshop that will take you on a timeless journey through the history, techniques, symbolism and application of these Traditional textiles.

Traditional textiles are rich in pattern, colour and texture. This workshop will introduce students to the harmony of colours and an understanding of pattern created by Geometry and ‘Islimi’ – also known as the Arabesque – and the textural quality of textiles. This will be achieved through traditional painting techniques.

Expected Outcomes

  • To create a painted paper panel of a textile design inspired by the traditional textiles.
  • Design sketches and colour schemes inspired by traditional textiles.
  • Diary/sketchbook of the design process with stages and thoughts.
  • Textile design panel

Workshop Date, Time and Location

Date: Saturdays from 26 February to 19 March.

Timings: 10:30 am to 4:00 pm

Location: Office of Vesica Limited, 16-24 Underwood Street, London, N1 7JQ

Closest tube station: Old Street

Fees: £250 (materials included)

To Book call Vesica on 020 8133 8050 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)