The J. Paul Getty Museum

Lamp

Object Details

Title:

Lamp

Artist/Maker:

Unknown

Culture:

Greek

Date:

n.d.

Medium:

Terracotta

Object Number:

83.AQ.438.342

Dimensions:

6.7 × 12 cm (2 5/8 × 4 3/4 in.)

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Object Description

The top of this lamp represents a Black African with almond-shaped eyes, a broad nose, a creased brow, and long corkscrew curls that hang down to the ears on both sides of the head. From his thick upper lip protrudes a long flat-topped nozzle with a triangular tip.

The lamp is mold-made, with an elongated body and sloping sides, and rests on an ovoid base-ring. A raised edge surrounds the upper surface —a typical feature of Hellenistic “Ephesus” lamps. The filling-hole is located at the upper part of the raised edge.

Lamps made possible a range of activities after dark, including reading, working, and socializing, and also played a key part in religious practices and burial rites. They were produced in large quantities through the use of molds, and the flat upper surface provided a convenient field for decoration. Common subjects include geometric patterns, animals, divinities, and scenes from daily life. The depiction of a Black African’s face finds a number of parallels (see 83.AQ.377.486; 83.AQ.377.488; 83.AQ.377.492; 83.AQ.377.340), and typifies the commodification of their bodies in Roman visual media. In this context, there may also be a play of word and image. Black Africans were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Aethiopians, from the Greek for “burnt-faced.” Depicted upon the surface of a lamp, this Aethiopian’s face would – literally - be darkened by fire.