Brass hanging lamp with a griffin-head handle

Early Byzantine, 5th-6th century AD
Said to be from Herculaneum (Ercolano), Campania, Italy

The body of the lamp is boat-shaped with a filling hole for the oil in the centre and a wick hole at the end. The curved neck of a griffin emerges from a calyx to form the handle. The griffin has a spiky knobbed crest and holds a sphere in its beak. A small dove atop a Christogram sits between his long ears. A suspension loop for a hanging chain is soldered to his forehead. Hanging chains survive which may be original to the lamp, but it also has a bayonet fitting on the base for a stand.

Many griffin-head lamps have been found throughout the Mediterranean. This lamp belongs to a small group which share a number of features such as leafy calyxes, domed lids and polygonal nozzles. It is likely that they were made in a single workshop, perhaps in Italy where this one was said to have been found.

The Christian symbols on the lamp may not have had any specific religious significance. In ancient mythology the griffin was an attendant to the Greek god Apollo and was also a guardian of light. The Christian motifs were probably additional enhancements to the protective powers of this mythical beast.

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More information

Bibliography

D. Bailey, A catalogue of the lamps in -2, vol. 4 (London, 1997)

Dimensions

Length: 21.300 cm
Height: 15.800 cm
Width: 7.200 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1897,8-20,1

MCB2378

Location

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