Special exhibition March 20th, 2015

Sensual Delights. Incense Burners and Rosewater Sprinklers from the World of Islam

March 20th to September 6th, 2015

This special exhibition focuses on the museum’s Islamic Collection and the two types of vessels that were used to fill the air with fragrances.

Aromatic substances, and especially incense and rosewater, have played an important role in the Islamic world since ancient times, and still do this very day. In contrast to personal perfumes, incense and rosewater were used in social contexts. Burners and sprinklers are the vessels for aromatic substances that were to fill the air with sensual, ethereal fragrances.

These types of vessels appeal to several of our senses. They are primarily intended to release their fragrances. They are moreover designed with a view to practicality, so that the burners can be used without danger of injury and the sprinklers are not easily dropped. The museum’s pieces are moreover historical, aesthetic works of art that appeal to our visual senses.

Incense has been used far back in time in many cultural spheres and religions the world over. Today we find incense in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in eastern and southern Europe that follow ancient Christian traditions. When Islam gained ground on the Arabian Peninsula in the course of the 7th century, it both broke with the area’s older religions and adopted some of their features. The use of incense was evidently influenced by Christian church practices, and incense was consequently used in mosques from an early stage, but not for ritual purposes. Incense was only burned to fill the mosque’s public areas with a purifying fragrance, in harmony with the believer’s ritual purification before entering the mosque to pray. Incense was also used in secular contexts and was part of the etiquette at private gatherings. Incense mixtures were made into pastilles and sticks, and candles also contained incense – like today’s scented candles. Both high and low used incense in abundance, and there was a lively trade in aromatic substances.

In contrast to incense, rosewater is a type of fragrance that evolved in the Islamic cultural sphere. The technique used to produce it, distillation, was known in Antiquity, but was improved and described by Islamic scholars in the 9th century. Soon the first rosewater sprinklers appeared, and their use was mentioned in the Shahnama in around the year 1000, describing the festivities of various mythical Persian kings. Like incense, rosewater was also used when guests were received, their hands sprinkled with the perfumed water, and as a sign that the visit was coming to an end.

The exhibition
The National Museum of Denmark has lent the David Collection two incense burners and two rosewater sprinklers for the exhibition. Most of the pieces, however, are the David Collection’s own, supplemented by a few miniatures that show how the vessels were used.

Visitors to the museum will be able to get a whiff of and study some of these aromatic substances in a specially designed diffuser.

A catalogue is published in Danish and English and can be bought for DKK 100.

The exhibition’s architect is Johan Carlsson, JAC studios.

The music in the exhibition room:
Soliman Gamil, album: “The Egyptian Music”, ‘Sufi Dialogue’.
Munir Bashir, album: “Méditations”, ‘Al-Mawlawi’.
Indrajit Roy Chowdhury & Sanjay Ranjan Pal, podcast: ‘NYC Radio Live’.
Abdel Karim Ensemble & Abdel Karim, album: “Joyas De La Música Culta Árabe”, ‘Taksim Ud’.

There is free admission to the special exhibition during the museum’s opening hours.