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Work "Frog" oil lamp
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)
"Frog" oil lamp
© Musée du Louvre/G. Poncet
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)
This ovoid-shaped lamp, decorated with a frog framed by a vine scroll, was made in Egypt during the Roman era. Like vine fronds, frogs symbolized rebirth and resurrection, hence their use on Christian lamps.
Illumination in Antiquity
Lamps were produced using two plaster moulds. The oval body has two holes, their rims reinforced with a strip of molding. The hole for the wick, emphasized by a double molding, is at the narrow end of the lamp, corresponding to the nozzle; the other hole, into which the oil was poured, is in the center of the reservoir. The wicks were made from plant fibers, such as papyrus, reed or rush, or strips of linen fabric. Sesame or castor oils were the most commonly used, or in any case the least expensive.
The frog is depicted in low relief on the reservoir, its head looking toward the nozzle, while the the body has a granulated surface and the legs are drawn in schematic fashion. It is surrounded by a scroll of gracefully drawn vine tendrils.
A design full of meaning
The ovoid shape may symbolize a creation myth that developed at Hermopolis: from the broken shell of the mysterious primordial egg burst forth the new-born sun, prelude to the creation. The sun embodies light, which here takes material form in the illuminated wick, which annihilates the evil forces of darkness. With its ability to purify and to ward off evil, illumination played an essential part in the divine, funerary, and domestic cults of the Greek and Egyptian religions.
The frog, a symbol of rebirth, appeared in amulet form as early as the Predynastic Period. During the Dynastic Period it was identified with Heket, goddess of birth and fertility: the hieroglyph "frog" formed part of this goddess's name. Associated with the god Khnum, Heket was worshipped in the city of Antinoe, close to Hermopolis.
In funerary iconography, the vine branch or foliated scroll was an image of rebirth. For this reason, frogs and vine fronds appeared on Christian lamps with the "ankh" sign (signifying "life"), and sometimes the inscription "ego eimi anastasis formula," "I am the resurrection."
A functional object charged with meaning
Although this lamp was produced in series and at a late date, it nevertheless retained a strong symbolic significance, rooted as it was in the most profoundly held of Egyptian beliefs, later adopted by the new Christian religion in order to benefit from its talismanic power.
BibliographyM.-F. Aubert, R. Cortopassi, catalogue de l'exposition Portraits de l'Egypte romaine, Paris, musée du Louvre, 5 octobre 1998-4 janvier 1999, Paris, 1998, n 98 ;
Catalogue de l'exposition Les animaux dans l'Egypte ancienne, Lyon, Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, 6 novembre 1977-31 janvier 1978, n 111 :
Catalogue de l'exposition Egyptes...L'égyptien et le copte, Lattes, Musée archéologique Henri Prades, 1999, n 122 ;
"Frog" oil lamp
3rd-4th century AD
Medamod, Bisson de la Roque excavation
Molded and painted terracotta
H. 4.4 cm; L. 11.6 cm; W . 8.9 cm
Gift from excavation, 1927
E 12946, E 13007, E 15441, E 21051, E 21379, E 29542, E 29941, E29942
Lower ground floor
Gallery of Coptic art
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