Spheres like this one are known to have been very much appreciated in 15th and 16th century Europe. Although often referred to as being incense-burners, these spheres may have well been used as hand-warmers. Many references in mediaeval European inventories indicate that they were used in various contexts, for instance by clerics or as objets de virtù. Two famous pieces of this group once belonged to Duke Cosimo I of Medici (1519-1574). They are now in the Bargello Museum in Florence (Sylvia Auld, Renaissance Venice, Islam, and Mahmud the Kurd - a Metalworking Enigma, London, 2004, p.123-4 cat.1.16 and 1.17).
With the form probably originating in Tang China, these spheres were produced in some quantity in Mamluk Egypt or Syria. One of the earliest examples, which was made for the Amir Badr al-Din Baysari between 1270 and 1298 is now in the British Museum (Rachel Ward, Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, p.110, cat.87). A later example in the Freer Gallery of Art, dated to the mid-14th century, shows stronger decorative similarities to ours with two bands containing large intricate knots centered around a eight-pointed star (Esin Atil, et al, Islamic Metalwork in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985, p.171-2, fig.23).
In her extensive study on 'veneto-saracenic' metalwork, Sylvia Auld separates brass spheres in two groups: group A is 'typically late Mamluk' and made in Cairo, Damascus or Aleppo and group B closely relates to the particular work of two known artists, Mahmud al-Kurdi and Zayn al-Din (Sylvia Auld, op.cit, London, 2004, pp.108-40). The present sphere however stands out from the examples of group A with which it would normally be associated. The six-petalled rosettes and the long interlacing circles at the apex and base, the meandering vine around the join appear to be rare and more strongly designed than most examples of this group made for the European export market. On the 31 incense-burners illustrated in Auld, only one, preserved in the British Museum, shows a similar design of six interlacing circles. That example appears to be the finest of the illustrated group and is very similar to the present sphere.
For further discussion on inlaid brass spheres, please see lot 31.