With its gently flaring base, this type of columnar lamp stand became popular in Iran with the accession of the Safavid dynasty after 1500. Originally, the lamp stand incorporated a cap that would have held oil and thus transformed it into an oil lamp. The body is divided into three registers with faceted panels covered with stylized vegetal motifs in low relief. Traces of a black and red substance in some surface areas suggest the lamp stand was “colored” at one time, probably to enhance its texture. Although undated, the object’s shape and overall decoration relate to a number of other examples, including an almost identical one in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (Inv. 5603), which is dated to 1588–89. Based on their stylistic similarities, the lamp stand in question must also date to the late sixteenth century.
Like most other Safavid lighting implements, the stand is inscribed with poetic verses that allude to its function as a carrier of light. The artist added verses, centered on the image of light, the moth, and burning, to serve as metaphors for the lover and the beloved, which in turn evoke the mystical concept of the quest, the union, and the dissolution into the Divine. The verses make the lamp stand suitable for a secular or domestic context as well as for a religious setting, perhaps a Sufi shrine.
The verses inscribed around the top of the standare from the 427th ghazal (poem with a minimum of five couplets) by the celebrated poet Hafez of Shiraz, who died in 1393. They read:
The candle is like a moth heading for your light
Ecstatic for your state, my senses have taken flight
Happily the candle lost its light to a breeze
As if a moth reached your candle’s light
The lower inscription also refers to the owner of the lamp, Ruhallah. Although this individual is unknown, he must have been wealthy to commission such a fine object.
This lamp stand is the first of its kind in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art. It also complements two other important Safavid metal objects with inscriptions that refer to their respective functions: a small drinking bowl, used for wine and inscribed with Hafez’s poetry, dating to the early sixteenth century (F1954.115), and a dagger from the early seventeenth century (F1958.15).