Oil lamp

An oil lamp in moulded bronze, with a pear-shaped body including the mouth for the wick. It has a moulded decoration with an attractive handle in the form of an entwined vegetal motif.

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 fuelled with olive oil and had from one to a dozen wicks. Some had handles so that 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 decoration.

Different types of scenes could be seen in relief on lamps: erotic scenes, ones with gladiators, motifs from mythology or floral patterns. These lamps became very popular as they were not expensive. They were produced en masse using moulds instead of being individually produced by craftsmen.

The technique of lost-wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out through expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To release the final piece the mould must be removed.


- BAILEY, D.M. A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum. IV. Lamps of Metal and Stone and Lampstands. London. 1988.

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