Lamp with Pelican and Palm Tree Under Arch
Circa 4th-5th Century AD
Description: Roman red slipware lamp from North Africa with an uncommon motif in the central medallion. A pelican stands sideways with one wing raised underneath an arch, palm tree in the background. Tiny dots indicate feathers on the body of the bird. Its legs stretched beneath the body, feet resting on a column. The columns of the arch have volutes at the base and the top. The arch which emanates from the voluted columns is formed from a pattern of bordered strokes. The shoulder of the lamp is decorated with an alternating pattern of concentric circles and arches. A heart design at the beginning of the pattern on each side.
Length: 5.1 in. (12.7 cm)
Condition: Intact and well preserved.
Provenance: Formerly a German property.
Background: The Pelican is a symbol of the atonement and the Redeemer and is often found in Christian murals, frescos, paintings and stained glass. The pelican was believed to wound itself in order to feed its young with its own blood. In the hymn "Adoro Te," St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the Savior with, "Pelican of Mercy, cleanse me in Thy Precious Blood." Allusion is even made to this belief in "Hamlet" (act iv): "To his good friend thus wide I'll ope my arms And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican, Repast them with my blood."
Reference: For the type, see Musee du Louvre, Lampes en terre cuite grecques Lampes en terre cuite chretiennes, p. 116, #128; and also A. Enabli, Lampes Chretiennes Tunisie, p. 145, #652.