The Roman god Bacchus, or Dionysus in the Greek world, was the god of wine, fertility, and theatre. In these, Bacchus represented both the ecstasy and danger of complete liberation. The worship of Dionysus was transported to Italy by Greek colonisation of Southern Italy and Sicily, and in Roman culture continued through the festival of Bacchanalia. Symbolically, Dionysus is usually represented with grapevines and a Thyrsos (pine-cone tipped staff), and he is often accompanied by a Panther or Leopard. The phallic imagery on the right side of the discus was common in the Roman world as it was believed to ward off evils.
Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Dionysus, Panther and Phallus
A Roman red terracotta oil lamp with a rounded body, concave discus, and triangular voluted nozzle. There is one filling hole to the right of the discus, and three incised concentric circles surround the decorative scene. The central discus is decorated with the head of Bacchus (the Roman equivalent of Dionysus) facing right, with a long nose, and pointed headpiece; this head ‘sprouts’ from the back of a panther standing facing left. To the right is a separate phallus. The reverse of the lamp is plain with a singular line marking the base.
Provenance: Purchased at Christie’s 20 March 1978, lot 36 (part of a group)
Condition: Fine, complete and intact with original pigment visible. Chip to the nozzle rim.