The Messenger God Mercury (Hermes in Greek mythology) played a variety of roles within Roman society. In the Roman world, his ability of safe transport, as a messenger god, connected him to merchants and trading, as well as acting as a guide for the souls of the dead to the underworld. According to the Homeric hymns, the caduceus, a staff intertwined with snakes was believed to have been a gift to Hermes from the God Apollo, in return for the gift of a lyre which Hermes had fashioned for Apollo. Of the Roman gods, Mercury seems to have been one of the most popular, with Mercurian iconography representing a significant proportion of the figurative decoration found in material and visual culture in Pompeii.
Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Mercury
Roman terracotta oil lamp with a pierced handle and long, rounded volute nozzle. The lamp features straight shoulders with two concentric circles surrounding the concave discus. In this discus is the moulded head of Mercury facing forwards with a winged helmet. To his left is the caduceus with two snakes wrapped around and to the right is a money bag. An un-pierced air hole appears at the top of the nozzle. This lamp can be categorised as Bailey group C group iv. The base is marked by a single, circular groove.
Provenance: Ex S.M. London collection, 1970-2000s by descent.
Condition: Fine, with signs of ageing to the surface.