Bronze Oil Lamp

SKU JB.1493

12th Century AD to 13th Century AD




Central Asia

Gallery Location



Bronze alloy oil lamp with punched and incised decoration; body of near-spherical form standing upon splayed foot with two transverse ribs just above midpoint; channel rounded in section with wide, flattened nozzle and large wick hole; high openwork handle surmounted by onion terminal; hinged lid covering pouring hole in form of feline; register of squares terminating in volute with pearl at either end frames two roundels with incised decoration; incised decoration to shoulders and channel; channel flanked by pseudo-volutes. This piece marks a period of transition in Central Asia, a region that today denotes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Widespread islamization took place during 11th-12th centuries and powerful dynasties carved the region into several semi-autonomous states. By 13th Century, Mongols had taken over the region. Naturally, art mirrored shifts in the political landscape. Yet, despite the rise of new movements across a range of media, certain traditions did endure and remained unchanged for millennia. A tradition for metalwork is widely attested throughout the Islamic era. A high volume of extant materials show that metal objects – lamps, braziers, candlesticks, jugs, locks, caskets etc. – adorned homes across the empire and given the skill they display, both technical and aesthetic, commanded a high level of respect in society. For centuries, Central Asia had been a hub of world culture; crisscrossed by trade routes that connected Muslim lands with the peoples of Europe, India and China. In art we see influence across a vast area that reflects and reiterates this colourful and dynamic social fabric. Artisans were inspired by the cultures they came into contact with. Form, material and decorative techniques were appropriated from classical techniques transmitted to Islam by Late Roman and Byzantine sources. In this case, the openwork handle and volutes recall Byzantine lamps. We also see quotations of the Persian tradition appropriated from Sassanian sources in Iraq and Iran following the fall of the last Iranian empire in ACE 651. The roundels, for example, mimic Sassanian metalwork. The feline lid presents a rather resourceful solution to getting around the iconoclastic strictures of Islam. The so-called “principle of improbability” allowed artisans to create creatures – through the manipulation and elaboration of forms – that were so far removed from reality. This lamp can most likely be attributed to the ranks of Seljuk metalwork – the Seljuks reigned over Central Asia during 11th-12th century – for there are comparable extant examples. To use, the lamp would have been filled with oil – fish, animal or olive- through the covered pouring hole and a woven, fibrous wick placed in the hole at the nozzle and lit to burn through the oil.

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