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Roman Lamp representing the half head of a Satyr
Geneva | Lamps
 
Date:  1st Century AD2nd Century AD3rd Century AD
Culture:  Roman
Category:  Lamps
Medium:  Bronze
Dimension: L: 16.6 cm
Price: $28,000.00
Provenance: Sotheby's New York, Antiquities and Is. art, Dec 12, 13, 1991, lot 97
Serial No: 1251

This bronze lamp is in the shape of the left half head of a bearded satyr and is placed on a semi-circular base. The companion of Dionysus is portrayed bald, his forehead encircled by a garland of vine branches with finely rendered leaves that cover his temple and terminate in a small bunch of grapes. The twisted lamp handle recalls the goat’s horns that crown the head of this zoomorphic being, when mature. The anatomical details are depicted meticulously and with great naturalism: the broad nose, the wide-open eye beneath the prominent forehead, the small rounded ear, the thick curly beard, the sensual lips. The filling hole is pierced in the corner of the mouth. The beard terminates in a protruding nozzle, just below the suspension ring. On the perfectly flat side of the piece is a rectangular area delineated by a thin incision and whose color is slightly different from the rest of the lamp. This is the trace left by the soldering of the tenon in relief, now lost, which allowed this half head to be joined to its other half, identical but provided with a rectangular indentation into which the tenon of our example could have been inserted.
Iconographically, there are no documented close parallels for our lamp, although satyrs’ heads are well attested among bronze lamps in relief. Examples composed of two perfectly functional halves are, however, very rare, numbering fewer than ten. The only specific study on such objects (Franken 2005) reveals that this truly admirable artistic achievement seems to have long been popular among the Roman elite, since the dating of the listed examples varies between the 1st and the 3rd century A.D. The subjects represented are diverse: two tragic theater masks, two heads of Africans, a boar’s head and only one satyr’s head (or comic theater mask), whose rendering differs from ours, discovered in Aquileia and now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Milan (Sapelli 1986, no. 6, pp. 223-226).
The exact use of these lamps, beyond their utilitarian purpose, is still under discussion. Franken suggests, in an interesting hypothesis, that such artifacts were specifically commissioned for the wedding or the departure of a loved one, with each member of the couple keeping one half of the object (Franken 2005, p. 128).