Candelabrum with Aphrodite

Egypt, 5th-6th century

Bronze, 50.2 cm

Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum in Kansas City


The figure of Aphrodite, admiring herself in the mirror she holds in her left hand, forms the central part of this extraordinary lampstand. Naked from the waist up, she has a cloth draped around the lower portion of her body. The object she holds in her right hand is a perfume applicator. She stands on a short baluster to which are attached three widespread, elaborately decorated legs. Each of these is formed by a composite figure consisting of a human torso although one has horns and a fishtail. These composite figures carry small figures, human in form but with unidentifiable attributes. A second haluster, resting on the head of Aphrodite, supports the pricket for a lamp or a candle and the broad pan for catching the wax or oil.

Bronzes of larger than ordinary size, such as this one, were made by casting the elements separately and then fitting them together. The bronze casters could reuse their molds repeatedly. Although this lamp is apparently unique, parallels for its components may be found among pieces attributed to Coptic Egypt. To those noted by Ross may he added a bronze figure of Aphrodite between two musicians, in the Louvre, and a lampstand with its lamp, in the Hermitage, which is similar to the one excavated in Ballána, Nubia.

According to Ross, the Aphrodite on our lampstand is preparing to go to a wedding feast accompanied by Nereids, each carried by a fishtailed figure. Originally, the Nereids bore gifts, but the mirror is the only one remaining. Not only is just such a scene described in an account of the marriage of Emperor Honorius to Maria in 398, but a similar scene is illustrated on the cover of the Projecta Casket, where Aphrodite is flanked by ichthyocentaurs, each with a Nereid bearing a gilt on his hack, and Projecta is shown with three wedding guests. One guest carries a lampstand as a gift. Thus, the Kansas City lampstand may have been a wedding gift.