Bird-shaped oil lamp

Object Name: Oil lamp

Date: late 12th–early 13th century

Geography: Iran, Khurasan

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Bronze; cast, engraved, inlaid with silver and copper

Dimensions: H. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
W. 11 13/16 in. (30 cm)
L. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm)

Classification: Metal

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts and Harvey and Elizabeth Plotnick Gifts, 2001

Accession Number: 2001.470


The sculptural appeal of this lamp is rare in Islamic objects for everyday use. Its most striking characteristic is that the protome (the decorative portrayal of the forepart of an animal, in this case a bird) is integrated with the body of the lamp, which resembles the stylized body of a partridge, whose tail and wings are represented by sprouts. Another set of short, pointed wings appears on the protome itself, which is oriented away from the lamp; more typically, an entire small bird, not just its head and neck, perches on the edge or on a ring handle, facing toward the lamp's interior. Most bronze lamps have just one or two spouts, while this example has three. Also unusual are the suspension holes on the upper surface of the body of the lamp, which prove that it was intended not only to stand on a tall foot (now missing) but also to be hung.
The surface is decorated with engraved vegetal scrolls within medallions filled with silver and copper inlay. The inscriptions contained in two rectangular panels read: "Power, good fortune, well-being, and glory to its owner." The lamp fits comfortably in the cast-metalwork production of the eastern Islamic world, especially the area of Khorasan, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The type of inlay, the decorative motifs, and the calligraphic bands confirm the attribution.