Measurements: 8.5 cm - length


Description: A rare Roman terracotta oil lamp with scene where a male grotesque figure with priapic features plays a lyre and while resting on a klinai (lectus triclinaris).  The grotesque is bald, with large lidded eyes and eyebrows that arch back over his furrowed brow, a long nose, large ears and lips parted in a grimace. This physiognomy was associated with mimes and actors, who wore grotesque masks that were a reflection of Greek art and theatre and depictions of irreverent satyrs and phlyax plays. The lamp is featuring a short canal nozzle with scrolled volutes, a concave discus and one filling hole and one smaller hole on the rim, above the wick hole. Two concentric rings frame the scene. This lamp is of Loeschcke type I, which is characterised by a circular body and fairly wide nozzle with obtuse-angle tip, flanked by two volutes.


Created in the Early Augustan period, the type lasted until the end of the Flavian period. Loeschcke type I, first developed in Italy, became extremely popular and was diffused to all parts of the Roman Empire through either export or local imitation. Artificial light was common throughout the Roman Empire, and pottery oil lamps offered an alternative to candle light. Candles, made from beeswax or tallow, were cheaper to buy but do not survive as well. Pottery lamps functioned by adding oil through the central hole, and burning a wick placed into the nozzle area. Wicks were commonly made from pieces of linen, but could also be made from flax or papyrus.


Reference: Museum of Fine Arts Boston


Period: 1st cent. AD


Condition: Very fine, intact, with a stress crack around the scene and crazing to the surface slip. Encrustations on the surface and craquelure to the slip. Scratches and imperfections to the glaze on the back.


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