This type of container was held in the hand and served as either a perfume burner or hand warmer. Inside is a small brass cup that held a small quantity of smouldering charcoal. The cup is suspended within a set of gimbals which kept it level and prevented the burning charcoal from touching the surface of the container. Sometimes incense was added to the charcoal to perfume the air.
This brass piece was made in Venice and has the elaborate decoration associated with the city that was influenced by trade with the Muslim empires that bordered the Mediterranean. Unlike Northern European brass work, Venetian brass wares were almost always engraved and often inlaid with silver wire. This technique was known as damascening and was a speciality of Saracen artists. In this case, the maker has further defined the pattern by adding inlaid black lacquer.
The decoration on Venetian brass wares was extensive, often covering the entire surface of an object. It sometimes featured the arabesque pattern, based on a stylised plant with a winding stem. Contemporary Italian artists studied and copied the arabesque and by about the 1550s it was beginning to influence designers and craftsmen all over Europe.
Place of Origin
Spherical, the whole surface is engraved with bands of conventional foliage enclosing panels of knotwork. The incised lines are filled with a black lacquer; the intervening surfaces are damascened with silver. The two halves fit together by means of a a bayonet joint. There is a cast bronze container for bearing incense or perfume, suspended on gimbals inside.
Materials and Techniques
Brass, pierced, engraved and silver damascened with black lacquer infill. Perfume burner, brass engraved with foliage and knotwork, and filled with a black lacquer in the incised lines, Venetian, late 15th century.