Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Erotic Scene


An ancient Roman, terracotta, oil lamp, featuring a decorated concave discuss and a rounded volute nozzle. The discuss depicts an erotic scene between a man and a woman, lying on a bed. The man is depicted lying on his back, knees slightly bent and his weight braced on his arms, his head resting on a pillow. The woman is depicted kneeling, as she hovers over the man’s waist. Surrounding the discus is a single concentric, incised circles. The lamp’s two, large volutes are placed between the discuss and nozzle. The reverse features a simple base ring. This lamp belongs to the Loeschcke type IV, characterised by rounded shoulders and nozzle. Dates for this style of lamp are given from the reign of Vespasian, circa AD 69, to Hadrian, circa AD 138.

Date: Circa 1st - 2nd century AD
Provenance: Madame Suzanne Gozlan then by descent. Madame Suzanne Gozlan (1921-2022), Doctor of History and Archaeology, professor at the Ecole Normale d'Instituteurs de Chartres and lecturer at the University of Paris, Sorbonne.
Condition: Very fine. Some loss of detailing to the discus but scene still visible. Some loss of glaze.

In stock

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. Common decorative themes depicted on the discus were entertainment scenes (such as gladiators in combat), common myths, and animals. Pottery oil lamps could be made in three different ways: handmade, wheel made, or by mould. The use of the mould (which was made from clay or plaster) quickly became popular, because one mould could produce several lamps.

Erotic scenes were an exceedingly popular depiction on oil lamps, making up the largest repertoire. Scenes such as this, with the female depicted on top of her male companion were common, along with a variety of other heterosexual scenes. Another common depiction shows the male companion kneeling, lifting the woman’s leg as she lies on her back. Most scenes are heterosexual in nature, but some lamps also depict homosexual interaction and scenarios between dwarf entertainers and women.

To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.

Weight 66.8 g
Dimensions L 10 x W 7.2 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For similar scene: Bonhams Auction House, London, Antiquities, 6th July 2021, part of lot 40

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