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Lot 28, Auction 7/20/2017: Late Roman Bronze Hanging Oil Lamp in Bird Form

Roman, late Imperial Period, ca. 4th to 6th century CE. A charming and highly detailed oil lamp in the form of an inquisitive bird, posed with head cocked, a seed grasped in its beak. The bird is perched on a round, concave base, and its body has multiple hooks and openings for use as a hanging oil lamp. Shallow incised curves and lines on the body give the appearance of smoothed feathers. Size: 4.6" L x 2.05" W x 3.5" H (11.7 cm x 5.2 cm x 8.9 cm)

Pigeons (doves) were incredibly popular in ancient Rome - Pliny records a "mania" for pigeons, with people constructing elaborate dovecotes (columbaria) atop their houses to keep the birds. Varro's Rerum Rusticarum describes the breeding and keeping of pigeons, mostly for the table, and kept in a peristeron or peristerotrophion, which could hold up to five thousand of the birds. Whomever made this lamp was closely observant of the animals, recording not just a common pose, but also adding twin bumps on the beak which are indicative of pigeon pox. Made of bronze, this would have been an item kept by a wealthy person, perhaps one who had a special passion for birds.

Condition: Small loss to tip of tail and to base. One of the rings for attaching a chain has split. Beautiful bright green patina over nearly all of surface.

Provenance: Ex-Private East Coast, USA Collection

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