© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

With curving horns and bulging eyes, this vessel is cast in the form of a mythical lion known as a yali. A persistent motif with protective associations in South Asian art, the yali can be found in Jain painting and Hindu sculpture—for example, the nearby relief of the goddess Chamunda. On this bronze figure, the yali merges with a traditionally Islamic form—the animal-shaped incense burner. Placed within the yali’s hollow body, burning incense would have been covered by a back lid (missing), forcing the perfumed smoke to exit through the open mouth and the holes ringing the chest like a necklace.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Incense burner in the form of a lion
Work Type
15th century
Creation Place: South Asia, India, Deccan
Sultanate period
Level 2, Room 2590, South Asian Art, South Asia in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras
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Physical Descriptions
Cast bronze
17.46 x 13.97 x 6.67 cm (6 7/8 x 5 1/2 x 2 5/8 in.)
Oscar Meyer Antiques, Los Angeles, CA? (by 1964), sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1964.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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This incense burner combines the Indian sculptural tradition and the Islamic tradition of zoomorphic incense burners. To judge from two similar objects which have survived, this one would have stood on a circular platform with its raised paw resting on the head of a small elephant. The lid, which would have covered its back, is also missing. The incense would have been placed in the lion's body, and perfumed smoke would have been released from the holes in its chest, resembling beads on necklaces, and through its mouth, around its movable tongue. Notes from the Glory and Prosperity exhibition, Feb - June 2002.
Publication History

Stuart Cary Welch, India, Art and Culture, 1300-1900, exh. cat., Holt, Rinehart & Winston (New York, NY, 1985), Page 131-132/Figure 76

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 53

Exhibition History

Birds, Beasts and Calligraphies, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/11/1981 - 09/29/1981

Indian Art During the Mughals, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/1986 - 05/18/1986

Islamic Art: The Power of Pattern, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/23/1989 - 01/17/1990

Overlapping Realms: Arts of the Islamic World and India, 900-1900, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/02/2006 - 03/23/2008

Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/26/2008 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2590 South and Southeast Asia, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu