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.
Roman Oil Lamp with Erotic Scene
A beautiful Ancient Roman mould made terracotta oil lamp. The lamp features a long canal nozzle with volutes and a hollowed discus with one filling hole. The discus is decorated with three concentric lines surrounding the moulded depiction of an erotic scene, designed in high relief. Two figures, a man, kneeling, and a woman, with her legs and one arm raised, facing forwards, are depicted during intercourse. The man, displaying an erection, is holding an artificial phallus, bowing and holding up one of the woman’s legs. Detailing is exceptional, with anatomical features naturalistically modelled and the draping of the linen over which the two figures are depicted finely rendered through deep incisions. The lamp features a maker’s mark to the reverse. This lamp type, with its rounded nozzle and volutes can be categorised as Loeschcke type IV.
Provenance: Ex S.M. collection, London, 1948 - 2000.
Condition: Very fine. Chip to the reverse and some natural abrasions to the whole lamp. Some loss of gloss. The lamp has been TL tested.