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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Lighting Devices
Work Type
lighting device
6th-8th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt?
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Mixed copper alloy
Cast, sand
diam. 23.3 x l. of chains 36 cm (9 3/16 x 14 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Mixed Copper Alloy:
Point 1 (chain): Cu, 90.05; Sn, 2.82; Pb, 3.67; Zn, 2.83; Fe, 0.13; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.11; Sb, 0.09; As, 0.21; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.027; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
Point 2 (body): Cu, 72.46; Sn, 2.28; Pb, 19.8; Zn, 4.13; Fe, 0.35; Ni, 0.06; Ag, 0.13; Sb, 0.3; As, 0.48; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.016; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is grayish brown. There is a crack in one of the larger circles. Many of the small round holes around the edge are filled with burial dirt, and in the case of three rectangular shaped holes, metal that was not removed after casting. Some deformations are present in the chain links and hooks.

The polycandelon was rough cast, possibly in a sand mold, with rough finishing after casting. Three rectangular holes still have grainy-looking metal that was not removed during finishing. The chain links and hooks were formed by hot working.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Hagop Kevorkian collection, gift; to the Fogg Museum, 1975.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Foundation in memory of Hagop Kevorkian
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This polycandelon is composed of a bronze disc with a sawtooth edge suspended from three chains (1). The chains attach at one end to loops, which protrude from the disc, and at the other end to the ring of a suspension hook. The disc has a geometric, openwork design composed of three concentric circles and seven round openings, one at the center and six evenly placed around the outer circle. Small conical glass beakers filled with oil and ignited by a wick would have been placed in the openings (2).

Six pairs of spokes radiate from the central opening, three of which are connected by crosspieces. The other three are partially filled. Between the six peripheral lamp openings additional spokes connect the middle and outer circles. The filled spokes create a form similar to the Greek letters Chi-Rho, Christ’s monogram. The double spokes with crossbars and the bridged spaces between lamp openings may signify the Greek letters alpha and omega, respectively (3). The design of this polycandelon combines several earlier iconographic motifs, which have lost some of their original detail and developed into more abstract shapes. A similar polycandelon, formerly in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin (4), comes from the Wadi Natroun monastery in Egypt, suggesting an Egyptian provenance for the Harvard polycandelon as well.

Polycandela are lighting devices, usually made of metal, that hold multiple lamps or candles in order to illuminate spaces brightly (5). Until the eighth century CE, polycandela were widely used as household furnishings (6). The Christian iconography incorporated in the design of the two Harvard examples does not preclude their use in a home, but it certainly does make them appropriate implements for a church, where they could have served as votive offerings. Byzantine churches often displayed lavish illumination schemes (7). As purveyors of light in holy spaces, polycandela facilitated a relationship between functional and spiritual illumination, a connection expressed through their incorporation of sacred symbols (8).


1. Compare O. Wulff, Altchristliche und mittelalterliche byzantinische und italienische Bildwerke 1: Altchristliche Bildwerke, Beschreibung der Bildwerke der christlichen Epochen 3 (Berlin, 1909) 211, no. 1005, pl. 48; S. D. Campbell, The Malcove Collection: A Catalogue of the Objects in the Lillian Malcove Collection of the University of Toronto (Toronto, 1985) 58; and M. Xanthopoulou, Les lampes en bronze à l’époque paléochrétienne, Bibliothèque de l’Antiquité tardive 16 (Turnhout, 2010) 302, nos. LU 5.003-5.004.

2. L. Bouras, “Byzantine Lighting Devices,” Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik 32.3 (1982): 479-92, esp. 480; C. A. Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453: Sources and Documents, Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 16 (Toronto, 1986) 90; G. M. Crowfoot and D. B. Harden, “Early Byzantine and Later Glass Lamps,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 17.3 (1931): 196-208, esp. 200-201; C. Stiegemann, ed., Byzanz, das Licht aus dem Osten: Kult und Alltag im Byzantinischen Reich vom 4. bis 15. Jahrhundert, exh. cat., Erzbischöflichen Diözesanmuseum (Paderborn, 2001) 216, no. II.10; and L. Bouras and M. G. Parani, Lighting in Early Byzantium (Washington, DC, 2008) 13, fig. 15, and 98-101, nos. 31-33.

3. Compare Wulff 1909 (supra 1) 211, no. 1010, pl. 48; and P. Verdier, “An Early Christian Polycandelon from Constantinople,” Bulletin of the Walters Art Gallery 12 (1960): 2-3, for more elaborate use of the Chi-Rho monogram with the letters alpha and omega.

4. Xanthopoulou 2010 (supra 1) 302, no. LU 5.004.

5. Bouras and Parani 2008 (supra 2) 12-14.

6. E. D. Maguire, H. P. Maguire, and M. J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House, exh. cat., Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan (Urbana, 1989) 57; and D. M. Bailey, A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum 4: Lamps of Metal and Stone, and Lampstands (London, 1996) 107-108.

7. Such as that of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; see Bouras and Parani 2008 (supra 2) 31-36.

8. G. Galavaris, “Some Aspects of Symbolic Use of Lights in the Eastern Church: Candles, Lamps, and Ostrich Eggs,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 4.1 (1978): 69-78, esp. 73-74.

Helle Sachse

Publication History

  • Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 194, no. 106, fig. 106.

Exhibition History

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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