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An ornate hollow hanging pedestal.

Hanging from 3 loops which resemble long-necked birds, a covered bowl which is shaped like a six-pointed star with a large hole in the center and smaller holes on each of the points. The points of the star are two alternating shapes: a persons head facing down so that the back and top of their head and very little of their face is visible, and a thick triangular slab, almost like a slice of cake which is ridged along its edges. There are symmetrical and consistent floral and curling decorations throughout the surface.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Oil Lamp with Nozzles in the Shape of Heads and Ships' Prows
Lighting Devices
Work Type
lighting device
1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Early
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3700, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Roman Art
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Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
h. 10.5 x diam. 25.8 cm (4 1/8 x 10 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is dark green. The object is intact with no restoration other than mechanical cleaning. The lamp was cast by the lost-wax process, probably using an indirect technique in which the parts of the wax model were cast separately and joined in the wax. The wax model would then have been refined by working directly on the wax surface. Looking inside the lamp, wax joins of the separately cast spouts to the body of the lamp are visible where they were inserted into holes that had been cut to receive them. These joins in the wax model are also visible in the x-radiograph. A core pin hole (2 mm in diameter) near the opening in the top of the lamp and three similar holes in the rounded sides of the lamp are visible in the x-radiograph. The copper-alloy core pin related to one of these holes is intact and visible at the interior. The three hanging rings on the swan-head loops are each made of a single wire that tapers from 3 to 1.5 mm in diameter.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)


Recorded Ownership History
[Galerie Gunter Puhze, Frieburg, 2 October 1990], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1990.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Purchase through the generosity of William C. Kohler in memory of Elaine Kohler
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 large, beautiful lamp was designed so that it could hang from six suspension hooks, one on each nozzle, or be set in a stand, stabilized by the knob on the underside. However, the elaborate relief decoration on the underside indicates that it was clearly intended to be viewed from below when in use. The lamp has six nozzles designed in two alternating styles. The three larger nozzles are in the form of volutes with a rosette at each termination and, on the underside, the head of a deity emerging from a corolla composed of seven long, evenly spaced loops in low relief. The three smaller nozzles are in the form of ships' prows. The rounded, bowl-shaped reservoir is encircled with a vine, applied after the wax model for the body was cast. The discus is flat and is set off by a rounded molding. The large central fill hole is surrounded by a rim and two concentric grooves. A few very small holes were provided to release air as the lamp burned.

The volute nozzles are short and have triangular ends (1). On the flat top of each nozzle is a suspension loop in the form of the curved neck and head of a water bird, the beak bent flat on the surface; within each loop is a single wire hoop, probably the remains of the suspension system. The feathers are indicated by scalloped incisions. On the underside of these nozzles is the head of a deity whose straight hair falls from a topknot in waves on either side of the face, one lock looped over each ear. A fringe of hair, or perhaps a lotus leaf, is in the center of each forehead, and parted, grass-like strands under the chin join the heads to the corolla. The youthful faces have slightly parted full lips, and there is an impressionistic rendering of their features that imparts a lively, breathing feeling. Although this might indicate that these are images of the winds, the association with the ships and the grass-like strands of hair suggest that they are deities connected with the water (2).

The alternating three nozzles are about half the size of the head nozzles. They are plain on the underside and sharply pointed (3). On the top, they are formed to represent ships’ prows with projecting cutwaters, a type that occurs on a wide range of Roman nautical vessels (4). On each is a scroll-shaped suspension hook, only one of which is completely preserved. Although lamps in the form of ships are common, the Harvard lamp has no known parallel (5).


1. Similar to D. M. Bailey, A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum 2: Roman Lamps Made in Italy (London, 1980) Type a, Group ii; Bailey’s categorization corresponds to S. Loeschke, Lampen aus Vindonissa (Zurich, 1919) Type 1A, Augustan-Tiberian.

2. E. Lyding Will has suggested that they might represent Isis or Tyche, both goddesses associated with nautical iconography (pers. comm.). For the hair, compare Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae Isis no. 174; for Isis on a boat lamp, LIMC Isis no. 165. The style is also similar to the faces of the double herms on the balustrade of the second ships excavated at Nemi; see G. Ucelli, Le navi di Nemi (Rome, 1950) 175 and 241-43, fig. 189. For a suspension lamp with faces, possibly representing Osiris, under the two nozzles, see R. Rosenthal and R. Sivan, Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection, Qedem 8 (Jerusalem, 1978) 92, no. 373. For other heads under nozzles, see D. M. Bailey, A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum 4: Lamps of Metal and Stone, and Lampstands (London, 1996) no. Q3649, pls. 35-37, a very heavy and elegant first century CE example in the British Museum, excavated from the Cluny baths in Paris; for the original illustration of this lamp and dolphin hanger and the objects found with it, see J. Bonnet, P. Velay, and P. Forni, Les bronzes antiques de Paris, Collections du Musée Carnavalet (Paris, 1989) 270-71, no. 405, figs. 30-31, pls. 401-403. See also Bailey 1996 (supra) no. 3698, a maenad mask flanked by a vine in high relief below the handle. A lamp with a similar shape and six nozzles in Boston bears a dedicatory inscription; see M. Comstock and C. Vermeule, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Greenwich, CT, 1971) 350-51, fig. 492.

3. Similar to those on plastic lamps in the form of a ship; for an example, see H. B. Walters, A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum (London, 1914) no. 390.

4. Since these emanate from a slender hull, L. Casson identifies them as merchant galleys; see id., Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World (Princeton, 1971) 35, 158, 174, and 331.

5. Although for a metal lamp with six nozzles, three of which resemble ships’ prows, see A. Heimerl, Die römischen Lampen aus Pergamon vom Beginn der Kaiserzeit bis zum Ende des 4. Jhs. n. Chr., Pergamenische Forschungen 13 (Berlin, 2001) 86 and 186, no. 1105, pl. 23.

Jane Ayer Scott

Publication History

  • Jane Ayer Scott, "Bronze Lamp Adds to Ancient Art Collections", News from the Harvard University Art Museums (1991), Vol. 3, No. 4, 2, (ills.).
  • Jane Ayer Scott, "A Roman Bronze Lamp at Harvard", 12th. International Congress on Ancient Bronzes: Abstracts, Katholieke University (Nijmegen, 1992), 48
  • Jane Ayer Scott, "A Nautical Lamp at Harvard", Acta of the 12th International Congress on Ancient Bronzes, 1992 (Nijmegen, Netherlands, 1996), p. 417-421.
  • [Reproduction Only], Persephone, (Fall 2004)., p. 52.
  • Ruth Bielfeldt, "The Lure and Lore of Light: Roman Lamps in the Harvard Art Museums", Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, ed. Susanne Ebbinghaus, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 170-91, pp. 170 and 176-80, fig. 8.2.a-b
  • Susanne Ebbinghaus, ed., Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, Harvard Art Museum/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2014), pp. 170, 176-178, fig. 8.2a-b

Exhibition History

  • Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 3700 Roman, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project
  • Roman Domestic Art
  • Ancient Bronzes

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at