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Polycandelon for six oil lamps

Accession Number
1965/2.54

Title
Polycandelon for six oil lamps

Artist(s)
Coptic; Egyptian

Object Creation Date
500-599

Medium & Support
bronze

Dimensions
12 3/16 in x 9 13/16 in x 9 13/16 in (31 cm x 25 cm x 25 cm);12 3/16 in x 9 13/16 in x 9 13/16 in (31 cm x 25 cm x 25 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28, 2009
This beautifully preserved Coptic polycandelon (a type of chandelier) features six rings that were designed to hold conical glass oil lamps. Similar polycandela were common throughout the eastern Mediterranean and were used to light the interiors of both sacred and domestic structures, but the crosses on six of the radial arms of this example suggest that it originally hung in a church. Another repeated Christian motif occurs around the edge, where the six rings for the oil lamps alternate with six terminals in the shape of an omega—the last letter of the Greek alphabet, which was associated with the Christian god, who declared “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8 and 22:13). These Christian symbols, together with the celestial motif at the center, might have imbued the light cast by this fixture with a religious significance beyond its utilitarian function.

Subject matter
This remarkably well-preserved bronze polycandelon from Coptic Egypt features six rings around its circumference that were designed to hold conical or beaker-shaped glass oil lamps. Similar bronze polycandela were common throughout the eastern Mediterranean and were used to light the interiors of both sacred and domestic structures, but the maltese crosses on six of the radial arms of this polycandelon suggest that it originally hung in a church. Another repeated Christian motif occurs around the edge of the polycandelon where the six rings for the oil lamps alternate with six terminals in the shape of an omega--the last letter of the Greek alphabet, which was associated with Christ who declared "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Revelation 1:8 and 22:13). These Christian symbols together with the celestial motif at the center of the polycandelon might have imbued the light cast by this fixture with a religious significance beyond its solely utilitarian function.

Physical Description
This bronze light fixture consists of a central circular celestial motif from which extend twelve arms in a radial pattern. Six of these arms, embellished with maltese crosses, end in omega-shaped terminals. These decorated arms alternate with six unadorned arms that terminate in rings designed to hold glass oil lamps. The entire disk is suspended from three bronze chains joined to a large hook.

Primary Object Classification
Decorative Arts

Primary Object Type
chandelier

Additional Object Classification(s)
Sculpture

Collection Area
African

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
Coptic (Orthodox Christianity)
Maltese crosses (motif)
bronze (metal)
chandeliers (hanging lights)
lamps (lighting devices)

5 Related Resources

African Christianities
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Before 1492
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Force
(Part of: Science + Art )
Matter
(Part of: Science + Art )

& Author Notes

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