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Kelly, Elizabeth Charmian (2022) A Study of the Zoomorphic Incense Burners of Medieval Khurasan, c. 441–597/1050–1200. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis researches the zoomorphic incense burners (ZIBs) produced in medieval Khurasan between c.441-597/1050-1200, to understand their role, function and meaning in that multicultural environment. A database is established, with defined classification criteria, and used to analyse their iconology and iconography in context with other contemporaneous metalwork. While the literature has focused on the more sophisticated metalwork of medieval Khurasan that served the wealthy elite in ceremonial settings and on the utilitarian household utensils, there has been limited research devoted to ZIBs. Medieval Khurasan prospered from the economic growth generated by the mercantile activities along its trade routes. The increased wealth and demand for goods, the transcultural influences, the movement of goods and artisans all contributed to a new aesthetic in artwork. The iconography was processed, appropriated and hybridized, in a place that Homi Bhabha called the Third Space, which was laden with cultural meaning. It was from this context that ZIBs emerged. The places of production are here discussed: it is likely that the incense burners were produced in major metalworking centres in medieval Khurasan, and that their consumers were of the middle classes, purchasing metalwork objects reflecting their interests and lifestyles. The research indicates that zoomorphic figurines and fantastical forms were popular throughout the artwork, and ZIBs as hybrids, were a combination both with feline and equine characteristics. Analysing their physical characteristics has allowed the ZIBs to be divided into feline varieties and with horses, with varying associations with symbols of power and sovereignty, recreational hunting and even, with the military. ZIBs like other medieval incense burners, had purposes beyond their function, and this is also examined. The ubiquitous palmette motif decoration may have represented esfand, the aromatic, psychogenic plant, that was used as incense, and was considered to be talismanic, apotropaic and to induce bravery amongst soldiers, the lion-warriors. This symbolism is discussed within the Turkic people’s shamanistic background, and dominant military roles.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of the History of Art & Archaeology
SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Anna Contadini
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 May 2022 14:32

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