Naga oil lamp

The bronze lamp hangs from a linked chain and bent hook, the main component in the shape of a serpent with an upraised head and tail. The head supports a flat dish that held the oil, where a small wick would have provided the flame. The serpent has an open mouth with pronounced teeth and extended tongue, the upper half of the body is incised with circles representing scales, and the belly side is ribbed with projecting bands.

Historical period(s)
14th century
Medium
Copper alloy
Dimensions
H x W x D (without chain): 33 × 17.2 × 6.5 cm (13 × 6 3/4 × 2 9/16 in)
Geography
Indonesia, Java
Credit Line
Promised gift of Ann and Gilbert Kinney to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Collection
Long-term loan
Accession Number
LTS2015.3.2
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Metalwork, Sculpture
Type

Lamp

Keywords
dragon, Indonesia, Java, lamp
Provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Description

The bronze lamp hangs from a linked chain and bent hook, the main component in the shape of a serpent with an upraised head and tail. The head supports a flat dish that held the oil, where a small wick would have provided the flame. The serpent has an open mouth with pronounced teeth and extended tongue, the upper half of the body is incised with circles representing scales, and the belly side is ribbed with projecting bands.

Label

Known as nagas, serpents are powerful symbols in South and Southeast Asia. They guard the watery underworld, where they are believed to reside in jeweled palaces and protect corals and pearls. In Southeast Asia, nagas also represent the bridge that connects the human and divine worlds.

This bronze oil lamp takes the shape of a naga with an upraised head and tail, which hangs from a linked chain and bent hook. The head supports a flat, petal-shaped dish that held the oil, where a small wick would have provided the flame. The serpent has an open mouth with pronounced teeth and extended tongue, the upper half of the body is incised with circles representing scales, and the belly side is ribbed with projecting bands.

Relief carvings on Indonesian temples show lamps like this one illuminating sacred and palatial interiors.

Published References
  • Nandana Chutiwongs. Bronze Ritual Implements in the Majapahit Period: Meaning and Function. No. 6, vol. 30 Hong Kong. pp. 69-84, p. 51, 76, fig. 15.
Collection Area(s)
Southeast Asian Art
Web Resources
F|S Southeast Asia
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.