Beautiful and Useful: My Own Little Byzantine Oil Lamp

I now have an object in my house that’s about 1,400 years old. In my house. How crazy is that?  It’s a beautiful little Byzantine oil lamp made out of clay.

Byzantine Oil Lamp, 600-700 CE, from Palestine or Syria

I love so many things about this little lamp: It’s humble, made from a common material; it’s relatively simple, not overly decorated; I even like the current shape, with the handle broken off.  But the best thing about it is that it was used. People living over 1,000 years ago used this lamp that’s now sitting in my house.  (How did it last so long, almost intact? )

My absolute favorite part is the black soot that’s left from oil actually burning inside this lamp.

Byzantine Oil Lamp, 600-700 CE, from Palestine or Syria

I almost want to place it upside down. The bottom is as lovely as the top:

Byzantine Oil Lamp, 600-700 CE, from Palestine or Syria

I keep thinking of the William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” This lamp would have functioned just fine without the decoration.  With the decoration, it becomes a treasure.

One more thing to love: This lamp was “sold to benefit the Chris Maupin Irrevocable Trust for Ancient Art. The Trust works with museums and related institutions to build their collections of ancient Mediterranean art.” (Click here for the Clio website, where this lamp was bought, and their blog.)  I don’t think I’ll be building my collection any time soon, but for now, I’m happy to have just the one.  Best gift ever.

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