Incense burners in the shape of felines appear to have been produced in various sizes, ranging from the massive but atypical example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art signed by Ja'far b. Muhammad b. 'Ali and dated AH 577/1181-2 AD that is 33in. (82.6 cm.) high, to a number that are around 7in.(17cm) high. While the Metropolitan Museum example is made from sheet metal, presumably to accommodate the scale, the majority, as here, are cast.
Although not one of the largest examples, our feline shows strong sculptural qualities, a feature which vary considerably among the known examples, from the more angular versions such as one in the Louvre Museum (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.1297), to ones whose feline qualities are much more apparent. Among these latter are the incense burner in the Khalili Collection (J. M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam, Treasures from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, Abu Dhabi, 2008, no.98, pp.94-5) and the archetype of the group, that in the Hermitage Museum signed by 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Salihi (Pope, op.cit., pl.1304).
In the various descriptions of these incense-burners, the feline animal as often been identified as a lion. However, a number of physical features such as the perky face, pricked ears and tapering moustache are more typical of lynxes which were also highly prized for hunting and their ability to be easily tamed (J. M. Rogers, op. cit., Abu Dhabi, 2008, no.100, pp.95).