Oil lamp in the form of a miner's lamp (lampara minera)

1850–1900


Object Place: Bolivia (possibly)

Dimensions

31.4 x 11.3 x 24.5 cm (12 3/8 x 4 7/16 x 9 5/8 in.)

Accession Number

2001.842

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The lamp is composed of a beaker-shaped hinged reservoir with an applied base and projecting wick holder that hangs at the base of a tall sconce, which is ornamented with a variety of symbols. A silver framework supports the whole, beginning with a flat band soldered to the back of the lamp, rising upward to a wider frame. Above the sconce, a deep hook completes the frame. A U-shaped brace has been affixed to the back, presumably to assist in securing the lamp.
The lid of the lamp’s reservoir is ornamented with a cast horned bull. Behind it, on a shallow step of the frame, is a small turkey with arrayed tail feathers. The sconce is composed of a series of emblems, letters, or symbols fashioned from a metal sheet and mounted to the framework, which has also been cast into several shapes. From top to bottom, they are a pair of llamas; a flying bird; a cross, the letters “B M”; and four mining tools. The framework is composed of the above-mentioned flying bird and a lyre.


This so-called miner’s lamp was unlikely used by miners, who worked in a cramped environment and were too poor to own such an elaborate form. It is possible that it belonged to “B M,” the unidentified owner or manager of a mine. The hook and brace suggest that the lamp was hung over a large rod and secured in place. The animal and Christian elements are not uncommon in Latin American silver; the mining implements, which include a sledgehammer, shovel, and pick, suggest its relationship to a mine.1
The placement of the hinge at the front of the lamp seems curious, but it may have served to keep oil from spilling forward. When lit, the lamp would have cast a soft glow on the sconce where the above-mentioned symbols were arranged.

This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.

Inscription

B M,” shaped from a sheet of metal, appears below cross on form.

Markings

None

Provenance

April 14, 1975, sold by Alphonse Jax (dealer), New York, to Landon T. Clay, Boston [see note]; 2001, year-end gift of Landon T. Clay to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 23, 2002)

NOTE: According to Alphonse Jax at the time of the sale, this entered the United States from Argentina and was cleared by U.S. Customs on April 7, 1975 (first lent to the MFA on August 5, 1975). The donor, however, later recalled that he purchased it from the Edward Merrin Gallery, New York.

Credit Line

Gift of Landon T. Clay