Ancient Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Cupid


An Ancient Roman oil lamp finely moulded in light terracotta, featuring a short heart-shaped nozzle, concave discus with one filling hole, and a single pierced handle. The shoulder is decorated with a stylised laurel wreath, characteristic of lamps categorised as Bussièr form D X 4, variants A and B. The discus is decorated with the depiction of a winged cupid, holding a torch, floating mantel and situla. Above the heart-shaped nozzle is a raised line with centrally-placed circle. The underside of the nozzle is decorated with a band of tongues between two twisted cords. This lamp is categorised as Loeschcke VIII; Bussière form D X 4b.

Date: 1st-3rd Centuries AD
Provenance: Ex S.M. London collection, 1970-2000s by descent.
Condition: Fine condition, earthly encrustations to the surface.


SKU: AH-907 Category: Tags: , ,

Ancient Roman oil lamps, or a ‘lychnus’ in Latin, offered an opportunity for the masses to own a useful object which nonetheless represented the stylistic and thematic fashions of their day. In these everyday objects, almost all aspects of Roman life are represented, with sexual, mythological, and entertainment themes forming the core iconographical motifs.

In this example, we see Cupid, the embodiment of passionate love, who is etymologically linked to the Latin verb cupio, cupiere ‘to desire’. In Greco-Roman mythology, there are multiple accounts of how and when Cupid came into being. For Hesiod, writing in the 7th century BC, Eros (the Greek counterpart of Cupid), was a primordial god and came into being after Gaia (Earth) and Chaos, and thus predates the traditional Pantheon of Gods. However, in the later Imperial Roman tradition, Cupid is perceived as either the child of Venus alone, or the child of Venus and Mars. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Cupid causes Dido to fall in love with Aeneid, thus serving to explain the historical enmity between Rome and Carthage.  In this depiction of Cupid, he is depicted with the torch, representing the brevity of love; and the mantel, which is often placed over Cupid’s eyes, a reference to the idea that love is blind.

Weight 79.01 g
Dimensions L 10.6 x W 7.7 x H 3.9 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Roman Mythology

Reference: For similar shoulder decoration and classification: The J. Paul Getty Museum, California, item 83.AQ.377.154

You may also like…