Early Islamic Terracotta Oil Lamp


An Early Islamic terracotta oil lamp featuring a pointed oval body and a prominent conical handle. To the top, the vessel displays a large filling-hole with a pronounced rim which is surrounded by an additional ridge. This extends onto the nozzle and around the wick-hole, forming a straight channel decorated with a x-shape in relief. The shoulders are enriched with a symmetrical pattern, created from cross-hatched lines. Two fishes and two birds, most likely a dove, are clearly visible. The reverse is unadorned except for a circular ring in the centre forming an eight-spoked wheel.

Date: Circa 7th-9th Century AD
Provenance: Ex German collection, German Art Market.
Condition: Fine condition, with some signs of ageing to the surface.


Early Islamic oil lamps, such as this fine example, have mostly been recovered in Khirbet el-Mefjer, near Jericho. They appeared at the beginning of the 7th century AD and became widespread during the Umyyad period (7th – 8th century AD), although examples have been found dating to the 11th century AD. This particular type, with a conical handle, is the earlier version and reaches its popularity in the 8th century. The form and decoration show continuation from late Byzantine examples, fused with the emerging Islamic local styles. Running animals, ornate birds, geometric patterns and foliage were all common design themes and human representation is markedly absent. Inscriptions are also common and appear in both Greek and Arabic, showing the fusion of both Christian and Muslim iconography.

The inclusion of both fishes and doves on this lamp would suggest a Christian subject theme. Doves were a popular depiction across all cultures, largely symbolising love and fertility. Within a Christian context, they were associated with peace and the Church. Fishes were a well known Christian motif, an allegory, they were called ‘Ichthys’ (Ιχθυς) in Greek. The word was an anagram for the phrase ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’, ‘Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς) Christos (Χριστός) Theou (Θεοῦ) Uios (Υἱός) Sōtēr (Σωτήρ)’. The first letter of every word making up the anagram.

Weight 78 g
Dimensions L 8 x W 6.5 cm
Christian Ideology


Pottery and Porcelain


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