Cast, bronze-copper alloy oil lamp with
zoomorphic, punched and incised arabesque
decoration; body of hemispherical form with three
protruding spouts, each terminating in pseudo-
voluted nozzle; loop handle with bird terminal;
central filling hole covered by hinged lid with bird
terminal; all stands upon tall hexagonal base;
inscription to shoulder reads: ??? ??? ???? ??
one God”; inscriptions to body reads: ??????
and ????????? ???????? ?????? ??????? “And
(standest) on an
exalted standard of character”; scrolling,
vines to base; geometric motif of interlacing
This fine oil lamp heralds from Khorasan, an
historical region that today corresponds with an
area in northeast Iran. In Pre-Islamic and Islamic
times the region also covered parts of Central
At the time this piece was in use, the region
part of an empire that stretched from Spain to the
borders of India, through Persia and the Middle
and along the coast of North Africa.
Great power transfers define the political vista of
this vast and unwieldy empire and dominion
between several semi-autonomous states. The
Seljuk Turks have control of Khorasan. Its four
major sectors, based around the cities of
Merv, Herat and Balkh flourish as cultural centres.
The Seljuks already had a strong metalwork
by the time they came into contact with Islam;
rather than ignoring the traditions of the cultures
they encountered, both Islamic and pre-Islamic,
metalworkers took inspiration. Metalwork was
carried to new heights during this time by the
appropriation of new forms and processes.
In technique as well as form and decoration,
lamps perpetuated Late Roman and Byzantine
traditions. The scrolling vine –vine rinceaux- to
base, volutes to the nozzle and geometric
all derive from Byzantine art.
We can also find reference to Persian traditions –
transmitted to Islam following the fall of the
Sassanian Empire in Iraq and Iran in ACE 651 - in
the roundels and arabesque decoration.
There is only one God. Calligraphy was
the noblest of visual art forms, lending to a desire
ornament everyday objects with inscriptions.
the Seljuks spoke Farsi and a Turkic language,
use of Arabic in such a prominent position
elucidates the islamization of the Seljuks and a
desire to emulate preceding Arab states.
To the sides, we have quotations from the Qu’ran
that promote hard work and exceptional
To use, the lamp would have been filled with oil –
animal, fish or olive – via the central pouring hole,
wick then placed into each of the three spouts
lit, burning through the oil. It would most likely
have been used within a private residence given
sanctuary lamps were more often of glass.