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A Roman lamp

Bronze

Height: 24cm
Length (top): 29cm, maximum
Length (handle): 32cm

Museum number: HR7

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 442help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

This lamp has a circular bowl with two sockets on the side opposite the curved handle which has a mask at the base and a horse's head at the extremity. There is another pair of similar male masks one on each side surface. The top is enriched with a circular band of palmettes around the central opening which has a small turned lid with a knob.

The excellent condition of this lamp should not give rise to doubts as to its antiquity, rather it is characteristic of the excellent preservation of so many bronzes from Pompeii and Herculaneum; these were, however, reproduced in great numbers by Neapolitan casters, and care must be taken in examining or authenticating antiquities from these sources. The surface of this Soane lamp shows perhaps over-zealous cleaning, particularly on the sides between the masks and around the sockets. Of a related example in Cassel Dr. Bieber writes that lamps the handles of which end in animal heads were found in great numbers in Pompeii and that there are nearly a dozen in Naples with horses' heads1. There are two of these lamps with two sockets and the horses' heads handles, the first with a lid similar to this, in the British Museum2.

See letter from Jas. Adams to John Soane, 8 Oct. 1825, reporting this lamp as being for sale and offering to bid for it (Soane Archive, Walne bundle, acquired 1934). This was the Revd C.A. North sale and a note in Soane's copy of the sale catalogue refers to his father, Dr North, 'the late Bishop of Winchester' who acquired the lamp in Rome.

Tony Radcliffe of the V&A (1990s) was not sure whether this lamp is antique, based on his noting the fact that it "does not hang horizontally from the handle".

1 Bieber, Cassel, p. 92, no. 418, pl. LIV; Museo Borbonico, VIII, pl. XXXI; Roux et Baré; Herculaneum et Pompée, VII, 3me série pl. 37; Overbeck-Mau, Pompeji, 434, fig. 231 m; Mau, Pompeji, 392, fig. 213.
2 Compare Walters, BM, Lamps, pl. VI, no. 95, and secondly, no. 85.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Perhaps from Herculaneum(?) see also Soane HR8. Purchased by John Soane from the Rev. C.A. North Sale, Christie's, October 1825.


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk