Tag Archives: gold

Rolling censer

Pierced globe Incense Burner, Mamluk period (1250–1517), late 13th–early 14th century Syria, Damascus. British Museum.

Pierced globe Incense Burner, Mamluk period (1250–1517), late 13th–early 14th century. Syria, Damascus. British Museum.

Zayn al-Din. Incense Burner or Handwarmer. 15th - 16th c. gilded brass with silver inlay. Walters Art Museum.

Zayn al-Din. Incense Burner or Handwarmer. 15th – 16th c. gilded brass with silver inlay. Walters Art Museum.

Knowing my interests, my friend and remarkable scholar, Dr. Stephennie Mulder sent me the image of the gimbaled censer above. The link to the British Museum (which seems to be dead now) stated that the gimbals keep the incense cup from spilling its contents while swinging but this seems overly fussy to me considering the centrifugal forces of swinging itself solve that problem.

Another site suggested that these type of censers were used in games and rolled from one guest to another. I suppose this would work if it were a very low impact game but any amount of velocity or impact and I think the host’s carpet would suffer some damage from errant embers.

The description of “hand warmer” makes a lot more sense to me. In this case the mechanism would function perfectly. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that the Walters object is also gimbaled though it must have some kind of suspension for without it the orb would certainly be too hot handle with bare hands.

All these pragmatic issues aside, both of these objects are virtuosic expressions of master metal smiths and are a delight to they eyes. What a pleasure it would also be to hold one of these in my hands!

A dead relic

Pieces of stone from cave where Jesus was said to have been born, now embedded in the west wall of the Tribune Tower Nathan Hale Lobby. (William DeShazer / Chicago Tribune)

I recently had the opportunity to hear Annabel J. Wharton from Duke University talk about her research in a presentation titled, “Protestants, Relics, Things.” (More on this in a later post.)

She began this presentation with the spolia object and above certifying description by L.S. Chakales, Chief of Bureau in a letter to Keith B. Capron, Tribune Tower Building Manager, May 8, 1950.

Despite the modern beauty of the reliquary, the letter reads like a Nigerian bank scam.

“The fragments I gave to Colonel McCormick are from the actual Cave of the Nativity. They were scraped from the ceiling of the cave by the Archbishop of the Orthodox church, which is situated directly above the cave and through which every denomination must pass to reach the shrine. Under no circumstances can the archbishop be identified publicly as the source. However it could be stated they came from a person who had access to the cave. Their authenticity can be guaranteed and proven by the archbishop and the mayor of Bethlehem, but the archbishop naturally would be reluctant to make it public. However the mayor, Issa Bandak, I am sure would confirm them. We were his guests in his home which is situated in a convent which is a part of the church of the Nativity for Christmas, 1949, when the fragments were given to us. In fact, it was his influence that brought about the archbishop’s unusual action. We went down the morning after and saw the white spot in the roof of the cave. In addition, we also got four tiny pieces of mosaic that were scraped away. We attached great importance to the fragments. It must be recalled the cave has been there for 2,000 years and it remains virtually intact. In that time souvenir hunters should have leveled the area for miles around, but miraculously it remained intact. I would like to emphasize these fragments came from the cave in which Christ was actually born and not from the immediate vicinity.”

“Bras en L’Air” French Clock

Bras en l'air clock. French. c. 1890.

I’m not really much for clocks but I am a sucker for alternate formats of time keeping. Here is a gorgeous timepiece of the bras en l’air (arms in the air) type listed for sale on eBay by Musical Treasures of Miami. The reserve is only $27,500.

From the perspective of an automata maker who must incorporate a timepiece into a design as some kind of nod to utility, this alternate hand placement opens up a host of compositional options not available to the traditional round, twelve-numbered face.

I’d love to get a peek at that mechanism. More research is needed and The Hour Lounge appears to be a good place to start.

Here is the full text:

This is an exceptionally rare and beautiful French clock, c.1890. Stands about 19″ high.

The gilded robed goddess standing atop the marble base has her arms outstretched. The hand of her right arm points to the hour, and the left hand points to the minutes, which are delineated in 5-minute increments. The gilding contrasts most beautifully with the blue enameled backdrop behind the goddess.

The platform escapement movement works perfectly, translating the clockworks through a clever linkage to the two arms, which when they reach their uppermost point fall dramatically to the lower starting position.

Every detail of this clock is in stunning condition, from the marble base with gilt trim, the goddess, time numerals, etc., are all flawless and without a scratch or mark.

This clock comes from the private collection of noted antique collector and authority Edgar G. Miller, who also published many books about antiques.

(as posted at The Automata / Automaton Blog)