In Antiquity, a lamp was originally called a lychnus, from the Greek λυχνος, with the oldest Roman lamps dating back to the third century BC. It is thought that the Romans took the idea for lamps from the Greek colonies of Southern Italy. During the Roman Empire, it became commonplace to use lamps in funeral ceremonies and for public purposes. Over time, the manufacture of lamps increased, and so did the variation in decoration, which depended mainly on the shape and size of the lamp. Erotic scenes were a popular decorative motif recovered in different Roma objects, such as intaglios, lamps and wall paintings. Erotic imaginary was deeply connected with Venus and her cult, hence the presence of the goddess on lamps of the same subject. Erotic scenes were not only associated with sexuality and pleasure, but also with the idea of luxury, wealth and elite status.
The story of Cupid and Psyche, one of the most beautiful myth about love, was originally part of the Metamorphoses, written in the 2nd century AD by Apuleius. The Roman god of love, Cupid, falling in love with the mortal Psyche, decided to take her to live in his palace. However, to keep his true identity secret he never let Psyche see him. One night, Psyche, overwhelmed by curiosity, decided to spy on her lover while he was sleeping. The decoration of the lamp might depict the salient moment in which Psyche discovers her sleeping lover, soon struck by the drop of boiling oil falling from the lamp she is using to enlighten the room. Psyche, meaning soul or spirit in Greek, is usually depicted with butterfly’s wings, hence the winged figure on the lamp might refer to her. Several myths were used as decorative motifs on oil lamps, ranging from gladiators’ combats, mythological scenes to symbolic animals. The myth of Eros and Psyche seems, however, extremely and particularly suitable for oil lamps.