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Section: Ancient Lamps
Page 8 of 14Last updated: 12 April 2008

On Terra-cotta Lamps
On Terra-cotta Lamps

An Edwardian Article - from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, December 10, 1906.

Robert Coltman Clephan, FSA Scot.

from Tusculum, of Etrurian black clay, are in the Black Gate Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. One of these, 2½ inches in length, is given on fig. 6, from a photograph taken by Mr Parker Brewis. They are formed rectangularly, with long upright backs, which are holed for hanging on a nail. Athenaeus writes of the skill of the Etruscans in making lamps.

There is an interesting collection of terra-cotta lamps in the Black Gate Museum, concerning which little or no record of the places where they were found has been kept; the importance of this was not realised by the earlier explorers. Some of the lamps were probably unearthed along the Eoman Wall extending from the Tyne to the Solway, though that double line of fortification has yielded comparatively few examples.

Though Greek pottery forms, the methods of working and enrichment, had been freely imparted to and assimilated by the entire Roman world, Greek art remained unique in its beauty, symmetry, and delicacy of outline, even long after the Roman conquest (B.C. 140); but the halcyon period was from, say, B.C. 440 to about 280. The terra-cotta lamps of Greece of the best period are remarkable for their small size, their lightness, the noble simplicity of their form, and the fineness of the paste employed in their construction, as well as for the refinement and correctness of the figures and enrichment generally, though many examples are without subject or mouldings of any sort. The paste is usually much lighter in colour than, that employed by Roman potters, but specimens of a black or bluish-black ware have been found. Greek lamps assume an even greater variety of form than those of Rome, but the earlier covered-in type has a plump annular body with a nozzle. Some of the designs are most elaborate, such as a boy reclining on a couch, the wick-hole being at its foot. In the British Museum is the rude model of a bull in terra-cotta from Salamis, and between the horns is an open lamp, while along the back of the animal are places for three more. Another lamp in the same collection is fashioned in the form of Artemis (Diana) standing on a pedestal. The figure, which forms the receiver, is clad in a short chiton, the oil-filling hole being placed at the back of the neck, and there is a nozzle at eacli side. The lamp is supported by the raised hand. Behind the left leg is a dog, and on that side a cippus, on which is a figure of Hecate. This example was found in the temple of Demeter at Knidos. Handles, when present, are mostly annular, crescent-shaped, semi-oval, or flat and triangular. The subjects of enrichment are varied in character, but mythological and legendary themes are more rarely represented than is the case with Roman lamps ; but what there is of this kind shows the progressive influence of the mythology of Egypt on the Greek pantheon. Ornamentation is artistically disposed around the crater, assuming scroll, wreath, and floral forms, and antefixal designs, that is, helices or architectural ornaments, the helix being often impressed on the handle or nozzle. Antefixes are thought to have been used to mask the ends of the tile ridges on a roof, though some more light is required as to their application. They were also used by women when spinning, the wool being rubbed upon them before being placed on the distaff.

Fig. 7 represents a typical example from Athens, of small size (2 inches long). Plump annular body, elongated nozzle, without handle. Early form, simple and elegant.

Fig. 8.—Greek or Graeco-Roman lamp of dark red paste ; annular body, elongated nozzle, enriched with mouldings. Triangular handle, stamped with a helix. Length over 7 .inches.

Continued ...

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