Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with a Desultor


A Roman terracotta oil lamp with a decorated concave discus and a large angular voluted nozzle. The central scene depicts two beautifully detailed rearing horses and a rider, wearing a conical hat, known as a ‘desultor’. The forelegs of each horse rear off the ground, whilst one bows his head, perhaps pulling against the reins. The design is framed by three concentric circles with a narrow, flattened shoulder. The single filling hole can be found directly beneath the body of the horses and the reverse features two concentric circles. This lamp belongs to the Loeschcke type I B group, which is characterised by its lack of a handle, circular body, and wide angular nozzle flanked by two volutes.

Date: Circa 1st Century AD
Provenance: Ex German collection, German Art Market.
Condition: Fine condition, some earthly encrustations is visible to the surface. The numbers 5 4 6 along with N T V have been added to the base - an old collector'c catalogue number.


The Roman oil lamp, a product almost unparalleled in its distribution throughout the empire, developed towards the end of the Hellenistic period and was to keep its general shape longer than any other item of pottery throughout the Mediterranean. The vast trade networks set up with the expansion of the Roman empire allowed for this item to be spread across Europe, Eastern Asia and Northern Africa. Oil lamps were used by the Romans for mainly three reasons; to light private and public spaces, to give as offerings in temples to the gods and to be placed within a grave or funerary context. As well as linear, geometric and circular designs, favourite subjects for decoration of oil lamps included gods and mythological scenes, scenes from everyday life, gladiatorial depictions, drawings relating to entertainment and theatre, and various animals including fish, birds and horses.

This scene depicts a ‘desultor’, which translates as ‘one who leaps off’. The term was applied to an individual who participated in equine sportsmanship. Desultores leaped from one horse to another, or worked with chariots, including the two-wheeled ‘biga’ and four-wheeled ‘quadriga’. These sportsmen wore felt hats, as seen here, and rode their horses with no saddle. The sport was immensely popular.

Weight 48.7 g
Dimensions L 9.3 x W 6.5 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For Similar: The J. Paul Getty Museum, item 83.AQ.377.18

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