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image L118
Ampulla SM L118. © Sir John Soane's Museum.

Ampulla (oil container from a lamp) from the Shrine of St Menas near Alexandria


Diameter: 7cm
Thickness: 2cm

Museum number: L118

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 490help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

On the Obverse: St. Menas stands facing front in Roman legionary garb, with a cloak over his shoulders; either side of him are two camels and a pair of Greek crosses appear in the field either side of his head. The entire composition is set within a stylized wreath border. On the reverse: an obliterated image set within a pearl-bordered circle.

Like the majority of these containers for oil from the lamps at the shrines of early Christian saints, this ampulla comes from the shrine of St. Menas or Mennas, an Egyptian officer in the Imperial army, martyred under Diocletian in Phrygia and buried in a church in the desert near Alexandria1. The British Museum possesses a large number of similar objects2 which are dated from the Fifth to the Seventh Centuries A.D. The Shrine of St. Menas itself has recently been studied as to its surviving architecture and its contribution to Alexandrian art by J. B. Ward Perkins.3

This ampulla, together with numbers Vermeule 489 (Soane Museum L115), V488 (Soane Museum L120), the Imperial head in Egyptian dress (Vermeule 37A; Soane Museum L114), and the fragment of a foot (Vermeule 402; Soane Museum S122) are mounted on a framed panel in the cupboard behind the Breakfast Room door in the ground floor Ante Room. They were removed from this mounting for study and have been newly cleaned, repaired and remounted by the cataloguer [Cornelius Vermeule, 1950s].

1 The Book of Saints, p. 194; and for the cults of Menas, etc., see the article under his name in Cabrol et Leclerq, Dictionaire D'Archéologie Chrétienne.
2 Dalton, Catalogue of Early Christian Antiquities, pp. 154-158, nos. 860-902, pl. XXXII, esp. no. 864ff.
3 The shrine of St. Menas in the Maryùt, in PBSR, vol.XVII, 1949, p. 26ff, and for further on the iconography of the ampullac, see P. Hombert, in Chronique d'Eqypte, XXI, 41 (1946), p. 173ff.

Provenance help-art-provenance


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