Object: Circa-fourteenth-century bronze lamp, with circular base added in the early eighteenth century. Its history is neatly summed up in a recent catalogue entry: “At first the lamp was presumed to be Roman; it was found at St. Leonard’s Hill, Windsor, in 1717 together with various Roman remains, and closely resembles oil lamps discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum. However, it is now known to be medieval and recent research suggests it may be Jewish” (Gaimster, McCarthy, and Starkey 2007, 61). Emanuel (2000) recounts the historiography of the object and presents evidence that it was in fact a medieval Jewish Sabbath lamp. The lamp was first excavated at Windsor in 1717 and purchased by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753 ), who loaned it that year and then gave it to the Society in 1736. It is presently in the museum of the Society of Antiquaries of London (LDSAL 56).
Banner: NON EXTINGUETUR.
Label: Lucerna ӕnea Romana ex Monte S.tiLeonardi juxta Windesoram effossa A.o1717
Bottom: SOCIETAS LONDINI REI ANTIQUARIӔ STUDIOSA. / Ian: A.o MDCCXVIII.
Banner: Shall not be extinguished.
Label: Bronze roman lamp excavated from St. Leonard's Hill near Windsor in 1717.
Bottom: Society of Antiquaries of London. January 1718.
Commentary by Noah Heringman: No image could convey more clearly how important Vetusta Monumenta was for defining the identity of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL). The first print in the series documents an important archaeological find, a lamp presumed at the time to be Roman, but reinterpreted as medieval in the mid-twentieth century and as specifically Jewish in 2000. This bronze lamp was acquired soon after its discovery by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), who loaned it to the SAL. The lamp was discussed and documented at one of the informal meetings that took place before the Society’s articles of incorporation were drawn up at the end of 1717. Inspired by the rarity of this find and by the symbolic association of the lamp with knowledge, John Talman must have had two aspects of his role as the Society’s first director in mind when he produced his image of the lamp. Visual documentation of antiquities was crucial to the Society’s research mission, superintended by the director; yet certain symbolic enhancements, including the Latin motto, suggest that Talman was also reaching beyond visual documentation to establish a program of continuity between ancient and modern learning.
The early Society’s decision to order an engraving of the lamp was the first step in a long series of symbolic restatements, extending from the use of this image as a frontispiece in other publications, and its reiteration as a pattern inlaid in brass in the floor of the Society’s modern space in Burlington House, to its prominent placement on the SAL website today. Having declared their intention “to collect and print . . . all the ancient Monuments that come into their hands,” the SAL chose to launch their primary scholarly endeavor with this engraving. Fittingly, it was Talman who both instigated the collective project of a print series and made the preparatory drawings of this particular subject (Evans 1956, 62n7). The persistence of the image, which also recurs eighteen years later in Vetusta Monumenta (Plate 1.45), paradoxically betrays the shifting status of the object itself, which in turn reveals how methods and values changed in the study of ancient objects.
The lamp’s Romanness was a crucial property for early eighteenth-century antiquaries. Many early members of the SAL construed the Roman past of Britain as a direct link between English scholarship and classical civilization. Roman sites provided an archive that secured the legitimacy and prestige of British antiquarianism. Roman artifacts from the same site, St. Leonard’s Hill, were shown repeatedly at meetings (SAL Minutes I.37, 62, 163), along with objects from other find spots; a Roman urn excavated by the Society’s president in Norfolk was dramatically opened at a meeting, but was found to contain “Nothing but Bones” (I.27). Vetusta Monumenta features several Romano-British subjects (Plates 1.8, 1.34, 1.47, and 1.48, among others), and Colchester Castle (Plates 1.35-36) may have been the first medieval castle to be chosen because of its particularly strong (if semi-legendary) association with Roman Britain. Finally revisiting the question of the lamp’s Roman origins in 1950, I. A. Richmond observed that the image gained currency because the lamp was “believed to be Roman,” but “once the badge and seal were adopted, the object on which they were based was taken for granted . . . until after the recent war” (1950, 24-25).
This image has provided a point of orientation for modern scholars seeking to recover the complex history of the lamp itself, but the print has a fairly complicated history in its own right. The Society’s minutes document clearly enough the early interest in this lamp, the prominent role taken by Talman in its depiction, and its association with Sir Hans Sloane, who eventually donated the lamp to the Society in 1736 (SAL Minutes II.215). The minutes also provide a suggestive, but incomplete record of events leading to the production of this plate. Concerning the discovery itself, we must trust the caption on the plate: the lamp was excavated at St. Leonard’s Hill near Windsor in 1717. Scholars have assumed that it was acquired immediately by Sloane, but neither the caption (which often did identify the collector) nor the minutes are clear on this point. William Stukeley’s (1687-1765) personal copy of the minutes (SAL MS 265) includes his own drawing and mentions the print as early as summer 1717, which may support the notion that he had the lamp on loan from Sloane. This date suggests that the first print in the series actually was the first to be conceived, and that the engraved date of 1 January 1718 is a symbolic one, meant to cement the lamp’s association with the articles of incorporation, which carry the same date. The official Minute Book account of this print differs in two important respects from its account of the next three prints in the series. First, this print was apparently not distributed to booksellers, as the other three were (SAL Minutes I.19). Second, there is no record of a vote having been taken to order this engraving (as there is in the other cases).
Although the official minutes omit the earlier history, they do indicate clearly that at least two different versions of the image were in circulation.1 In the official record, the image is first mentioned on 14 January 1719: “Mr. Director brought us a proof of an Etch’d plate of a Roman Lamp, to be used as a Symbol or Ticket of the Society” (SAL Minutes I.19). Initial discussion of the object and the decision to make a print must predate the first Minute Book entry (5 Feb 1718), and in fact the minutes refer to a pre-existing drawing of the lamp in the “old Minute Book” (SAL Minutes I.94), presumably matching Stukeley’s personal copy (Stukeley 1721, 11). The decision to “order 100 more of the Lamp” on 18 February (SAL Minutes I.20) probably refers to the print of 1717 rather than the “etch’d Plate” presented in proof the previous month, which might therefore be referred to as Version B. The Vetusta Monumenta plate is engraved rather than etched (and the word “more” implies some previous unrecorded order). Another detail from 18 February is of particular interest: “inscription to be added.” The Latin motto non extinguetur (shall not be extinguished) appears in the finished plate and accompanies the version of the lamp chosen for the Society’s seal in 1770.2 If the inscription on the lamp itself (Lucerna aenea) is meant, however, this could signal a larger print run meant for public consumption; the label would not have been required when the audience was limited to members.
Further complicating matters, Talman is described as bringing a “Sketch of a Design,” apparently based on the lamp, to a meeting on 25 March, “which he was ordered to have etched” (SAL Minutes I.22)—more than a month after 100 copies of an already existing print had been ordered. Joan Evans, in her generally meticulous history of the SAL, assumes that this “head piece or Emblem” is identical with the plate in Vetusta Monumenta, but the chronology clearly indicates that this sketch must be at least a revision of an existing print, and might therefore be referred to as Version C of this subject (1956, 70). In fact, the lamp is not mentioned in this entry at all, but since it does eventually appear as an “Emblem of the Works of the Society at the beginning of any publications”, some connection is warranted (SAL Minutes I.22). Talman’s original design does not survive, and the earliest title page on which it appears is that of Archaeologia I (1770), where it is incorporated into the seal of the newly chartered SAL. Evans implies that other versions might have appeared on earlier title pages (1956, 70), and she gives a detailed account of the design of the seal as a product of eighteen years’ deliberation (1956, 106-07). The seal, incorporating the lamp and the motto above a shield bearing the cross of St. George, with the English crown at its center, features on SAL title pages through the twentieth century; today, a more schematic image of the lamp appears on the title pages of The Antiquaries’ Journal and other current publications.
Attention to this complex history is warranted by the unique symbolic importance of this plate in its many versions, as attested by the rich vocabulary used ever since to capture its symbolic function: this lamp has been described in print as the Society’s “emblem,” “badge,” “ticket,” “seal,” “head piece,” and “symbol.”
Even from the start, the circulation of this lamp in multiple visual forms suggests that the symbolic import of the object mattered as much as visual documentation in the case of this particular print. Comparison with a photograph of the lamp shows that liberties were taken with the lamp not only by Talman, and probably by George Vertue, but even by the antiquaries who prepared the object itself for display by adding a base to emulate its presumed original function as a table lamp (Gaimster et al. 2007, 61). Richmond was the first to notice an eyelet concealed by this base that shows it was originally a hanging lamp, suspended by the arms at the top and with a chain attached to this eyelet to support a drip pan for leaking lamp oil. This bronze base, taken from a different artifact altogether, is broken at the bottom and may have been hexagonal; the engraving shows it neatly rounded off and inserts imaginary wicks in the original lamp’s four nozzles. The addition of the wicks and the smoke underscores the symbolic recoding of this lamp as a lamp of learning. Drawing on well-known conventions of neoclassical design, the engraving adds a cartouche with botanical flourishes for the caption (reminiscent of Wenceslaus Hollar’s designs) as well as a banner above to bear the motto (non extinguetur). The engraving may contain elements from more than one of the versions presented by Talman, but the flourishes are generally consistent with Vertue’s composition of subsequent plates.
Stukeley’s drawing of the lamp appears on a page with several other “Brasse Antiquitys” found “under a Stone” at St. Leonard’s Hill; Richmond points out that the four other objects on this page of drawings are Bronze Age axe and spear heads, and he traces the long history of occupation on this site on through Roman Britain to the fourteenth century, when a hermit’s chapel on the hill became a popular pilgrimage site (1950, 23).3 Like many archaeological sites, this one poses the difficulty of disentangling objects from different periods, sometimes very remote from each other in time. The Bronze Age artifacts depicted by Stukeley were “in the possession of Robert Butler at the Hermitage,” and Butler exhibited further finds at meetings of the Society in 1722 and 1725. In the latter instance, Stukeley (as secretary) notes that the Society purchased the artifacts from Butler, adding, “they dig up many Urns of all sorts thereabouts” (SAL Minutes I.163). Sloane, who presumably acquired this lamp from Butler, also lent other objects from his collection to be exhibited at SAL meetings or engraved for their publications (see: Plate 1.20). One of these was a “copper trumpet” also found at St. Leonard’s Hill (SAL Minutes II.94).
The confusion created by the simultaneous excavation of objects from multiple periods provides one of the clues that allowed Richmond to reclassify the lamp as medieval. Having established that the lamp depicted here differed from ancient Roman lamps in two key respects, Richmond identified closely analogous lamps from the Middle Ages. The closest analogue was a lamp discovered at Lincoln, near the “southernmost gate of the Roman town,” and seemed to present a similar chronological ambiguity (Richmond 1950, 25). Both lamps, though the general shape resembles that of some Roman lamps, have open nozzles and a fixture for attaching the drip pan, proving that they were hanging lamps. With this general analogy in place, the Windsor and Lincoln lamps can be linked to other lamps with a firm medieval date, even though the number of nozzles and the type of ornament on the hanging arms vary considerably. Richmond presents additional analogues from London, France, and Flanders, most dating from the fourteenth century. More recently, R. R. Emanuel presented another analogue from Bristol with a thirteenth-century date, quite similar in form to the engraved lamp but with three nozzles instead of four.
The significance of Emanuel’s contribution lies not in the date or the form of the Bristol lamp, but in the find spot. Emanuel reports that this lamp was excavated on “the site of the New Jewry” and identified as a Jewish Sabbath lamp (2000, 310). Emanuel’s brief note is rich in illustrations that support this identification, not only for the Bristol lamp but also for the Windsor lamp. He presents numerous pictorial analogues representing Sabbath lamps from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century. Oddly, however, Emanuel does not engage with Richmond’s paper, which assumes that these lamps were commonly used in Christian settings, including the hermit’s chapel at St. Leonard’s Hill and a London church where another example was found (Richmond 1950, 23). While Emmanuel presents convincing evidence that this style of lamp was used as a Sabbath lamp, more work may be needed to establish the religious context of the Society’s lamp, and the use of a prevalent style of lamp in secular settings should not be ruled out either.
The target audience of Vetusta Monumenta Plate 1.45, which depicts this lamp in a very different context, would have been expected to recognize the allusion to the plate we are discussing here. The bound volume first issued in 1747 facilitated this recognition for later readers, and the second lamp is now only a mouse click away. The later plate, a portrait of Bishop Thomas Tanner (1630-1682), a prominent member of the SAL from 1718 until his death in 1735, incorporates the lamp into a decorative border. Vertue’s engraving depicts Tanner’s portrait in an ornate oval frame resting on an imaginary tabletop with other objects: antiquarian books and seals to the left, and a three-quarters view of the lamp to the right. Though the lamp is not to scale, Vertue achieves a daring trompe-l’oeil effect here by depicting the lamp as lit and burning—the flames are much more pronounced than in the original engraving—and by rendering the banner as a physical object suspended on the arms of the lamp. He places his signature (G. Vertue Sculpt.) on the base of the lamp, indirectly asserting his authorship of the earlier print. This rich layering of symbolic resonance is typical of Vertue’s art and of the visual culture produced by the early Society of Antiquaries more generally. The lamp functions here to honor a learned prelate, much as it functions in plate one to establish the light of knowledge as sacred to the Society. The lamp appears as an emblem for wisdom in at least one Renaissance emblem book (Ripa 1709, 67), and lamps of knowledge or learning begin to appear regularly in the seals of universities and other institutions, mainly after 1800.
In its initial iconic representation, the bronze lamp known informally today as the “lamp of knowledge” forms a bridge between ancient and modern learning very much in the spirit of the founders of the SAL. The lamp reminds us, too, that the SAL is an Enlightenment institution founded by Dissenters and by Catholics such as Talman and Vertue—not secular, but invested in religious pluralism. The recent recontextualization of the lamp as Jewish provides continuity with the religious perspective suggested by the original find spot, while the shifting status of the object itself—first Roman, then medieval—beautifully captures the fallible human quality of knowledge making as a practice.
: According to Evans, the print of the lamp was published as early as late summer 1717 (1956, 62). Her source for this early date seems to be Stukeley’s personal, unofficial copy of the minutes (SAL MS 205; quoted in Evans 1956, 61n2).
: It cannot be established with certainty from the Minute Book that this print was “the first . . . to be issued to members” of the society (Gaimster, et al. 2007, 61), even though it was placed first when the series was bound into a volume in 1747. Alexander notes that “Vol. I P.I” was added to the upper right-hand corner in 1747 (2008, 273). Depending on which version of the lamp we take to be the Vetusta Monumenta plate, the printing sequence could be construed as plates 3-2-4-1. Beginning with the fifth print in the series, the printing chronology correlates more clearly with the order in which they appear in the bound volumes.
: Richmond, however, wrongly assumes that Stukeley owned the lamp and “presented” it to the SAL.
Alexander, David. 2008. “George Vertue as Engraver.” The Volume of the Walpole Society 70: 207-517.
Emanuel, R. R. 2000. “The Society of Antiquaries’ Sabbath Lamp.” Antiquaries Journal 80: 309-15.
Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gaimster, David, Sarah McCarthy, and Bernard Nurse, eds. 2007. Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707-2007. London: Royal Academy.
Richmond, I. A. 1950. “Stukeley’s Lamp, The Badge of the Society of Antiquaries.” Antiquaries Journal 30: 22-27.
Ripa, Cesare. 1709 . Iconologia: or, Moral Emblems. London: Benjamin Motte.
Society of Antiquaries of London. Manuscripts. MS 265.
Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.