Roman, Imperial Period, ca. 1st to 3rd century BCE. A large bronze oil lamp with a nautical theme. Two women's busts in the style of a ship's figurehead project from the short sides of the elongated bowl. Two youths, standing, nude aside from laurel wreaths, and holding large kilikes (wine drinking vessels) form the hooks for twin chains for suspension. The linked chains are hooked onto twin dolphins whose tails join together; above them is an additional long chain terminating in a large loop. Size: 7" L x 10.2" W x 26.5" H (17.8 cm x 25.9 cm x 67.3 cm).
Cast using the lost-wax process, this piece displays the technical prowess of Roman artisans. This piece, made of precious metal, would have been an expensive and treasured item, perhaps an heirloom. The design has a rich iconography, much of it relating to the nautical. The ship's figurehead-style women may be goddesses; the Romans favored military, mythological, or monstrous figureheads on their ships. The dolphins, meanwhile, remind us of a powerful and common motif in Roman artwork. The Romans were in part a maritime empire, and the iconography of the sea included dolphins, who they seem to have believed carried souls to the Fortunate Isles, perhaps because they could pass through the air-breathing terrestrial world and into the watery depths that claimed so many Roman sailors' lives. The youths, meanwhile, are not explicitly nautical, but their drinking vessels suggest that they may be at a Symposium, a drinking party for the wealthy. Perhaps this lamp belonged to a family who had become wealthy through maritime trade or naval prowess.
See a similar example at the Harvard Art Museum (1990.71).
Provenance: Ex-private collection of of William Froelich, NY, acquired in the 1960s
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