Lamp with theatre mask

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A bronze lamp made by the lost wax technique, with the body, or infundibulum, in the form of a long guitar shape. A handle curves up from the back end with a tragic theatre mask terminal.

Ancient Roman lamps were small utensils, normally made from clay, but also made in bronze, which were used by the ancient Romans and later by the Visigoths to provide artificial light. They were fueled by olive oil and had from one to a dozen wicks. Some had handles so they could be moved easily from one room to another. They could also be carried by participants in ritual activities or by actors in plays, as is the case with this piece, as can be seen by the theatre mask terminal decoration.

Masks could be decorated with erotic scenes, with gladiators, mythological figures and floral motifs. These lamps became very popular as they could be collected and were relatively cheap. They were turned out in masse using moulds rather than being hand crafted.

Ethnologists place the origin of masks at the time of the birth of self-consciousness. Their use goes back far in antiquity and they can be found in use among the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The Greeks used them in Dionysian festivals, the Romans during the lupercalia and saturnalia festivals and other theatrical representations.

Among the Greeks and Romans, masks were a sort of helmet that entirely covered the head. As well as displaying very marked facial features, they had hair, ears and beards. The Greeks were the first to use them in theatres so that the actors could resemble physically the characters whose roles they were playing. Ritual festivals gave way to theatrical representations which set a distance between the theatrical character and the masked actor.

PARALLELS:

- Museo Arqueológico de Tarragona, Spain.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- GREEN, J. R. Roman bronze lamps with masks: Dionysos, Pantomime and Mediterraneas popular culture. Heron. Journal on Hellenistic and Roman material Culture. Vol 1. Leuven University Press. 2012.

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