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Byzantine Silver Suspension Lamp in Open Work Technique

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: Byzantine
: 10th century A.D.
: Silver
: Diameter: 20.0cm

Ex-German private collection, Frankfurt.


Good condition. The item has been restored.


This well preserved semi-spherical lamp is made from a silver sheet in open work technique. Three little chains ending with a hook are attached on its upper edge; with thin silver parts inserted between them. A transparent glass cup (lost today) containing the combustible (oil) was located inside the lamp. The openwork decoration allowed for light to filter through, diffusing it on the surrounding walls, whereas the silver sheet elements were destined to reflect the light towards the ceiling, thus optimizing the reflecting properties of the metal. This lamp was probably hung above a small altar.

A Greek inscription runs along the exterior edge of the lamp and reads: “Your helper, John has offered it to the Saint as a gift of appreciation”. The text, without spelling mistakes, corresponds to a Syrian scripture dating to the 8th century A.D. Yet, it is interesting to note that this type of lamp dates to the 10th century onward. To consider the present lamp as a precursory of its type due to the inscription would not be empirically sustainable, as only a few lamps of this shape are known, and this particular example is the only one in silver.

The Dumbarton Oaks collection holds one such lamp in glass with three chains and a hook, published by Marvin C. Ross in the catalogue of their Byzantine and early Medieval antiquities. It is dated to 10th Century A.D. The production of such glass lamps continued during the following centuries. Numbers of fragments showing similar particularities as the Dumbarton Oaks lamp were found in a Corinthian glass factory operational in the 11th and 12th centuries A.D.

Marvin Ross points to a similar lamp in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome). It was reproduced in the 16th or 17th century by Rohault de Fleury, from a sketch by Grimaldi. Another example, apparently of similar shape is still in use in the porch of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem. And finally, a Greek manuscript of the 10th century A.D. conserved in the British Library shows on a miniature of St. Luke, a similarly shaped lamp suspended by means of there chains joined to a single chain and a hook. All the known parallels point to dating this lamp between the 10th and the 12th century A.D. The inscription would support its date of production to the beginning of the of the 10th century A.D.

This lamp is probably the finest of this known group. But, with respect to other religious silver donations, the lamp would not have been the offering of a well to do dignitary. On the contrary, the craftsman worked with little silver, as attested by the very thin sheets of metal. Hence, ‘John’ could have been under the orders, maybe a monk, who would not have been affluent enough to offer a larger and heavier silver lamp, yet sufficiently comfortable to donate a fine silver lamp made in an excellent workshop.




Moscow World Fine Art Fair, 19th-26th September 2005


Marvin C. Ross: Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Volume 1, Washington, D.C., 1962, pp. 85-86, n° 103.

Marvin C. Ross: A Tenth-Century Byzantine Glass Lamp, in: Archaeology, 10, 1957, pp. 59-60.

G. M. Crowfoot and D. B. Harden: Early Byzantine and Later Glass Lamps, in: Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, XVII, 1931, p. 196ff. pl. XXIX, n° 35, p. 203, note 4.

E. Kitzinger, Early Mediaeval Art in the British Museum, London, 1940, pl. 36.


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