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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Lighting Devices
Work Type
lighting device
5th-8th century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Bawit (Egypt)
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Mixed copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
diam. 57.4 cm (22 5/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Mixed Copper Alloy:
Cu, 78.86; Sn, 3.64; Pb, 6.18; Zn, 10.62; Fe, 0.23; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.13; Sb, 0.07; As, 0.18; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.015; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina consists of various green and grey corrosion products, and dirt from burial is present as well. The bronze is structurally intact except for a crack in the outer ring. The corrosion formed in interesting patterns, indicating that this object was stacked with other similar objects in burial. The polycandelon was cast in seven sections: the outer ring, the four central arms, and the two central polygons used to connect the arms. These sections were assembled with mechanical joins, that is, rivets.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Foundation in memory of Hagop Kevorkian
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This large polycandelon consists of a bronze ring with twenty-one round openings. Three loops, evenly distributed around the ring, would have originally been attached to suspension chains. The center of the polycandelon is decorated with a cross, which has five additional smaller openings, one in the center and one in each arm (1). Beeswax residue found on the surface during conservation confirms that candles were employed to light this device. But the openings may also at one time have held lamps. Glass or bronze beakers with thin stems could have been used with this polycandelon (2). A simple florette decorates the center of the cross. Corrosion patterns indicate that this piece was stacked with other, similar objects, perhaps in the storage room of a church or large household. An identical polycandelon in the Louvre, Paris, is said to be from Egypt (3), suggesting a possible provenience for this object.

Polycandela are lighting devices, usually made of metal, that hold multiple lamps or candles in order to illuminate spaces brightly (4). Until the eighth century CE, polycandela were widely used as household furnishings (5). The Christian iconography incorporated in the design of the two Harvard examples does not preclude their use in a home, but it certainly does make them appropriate implements for a church, where they could have served as votive offerings. Byzantine churches often displayed lavish illumination schemes (6). As purveyors of light in holy spaces, polycandela facilitated a relationship between functional and spiritual illumination, a connection expressed through their incorporation of sacred symbols (7).


1. Compare D. Bénazeth, L’art du métal au début de l’ère chrétienne (Paris, 1992) 166; and M. Xanthopoulou, Les lampes en bronze à l’époque paléochrétienne, Bibliothèque de l’Antiquité tardive 16 (Turnhout, 2010) no. LU 2.026, pl. 241.

2. Bénazeth 1992 (supra 1) 170-71; and L. Bouras and M. G. Parani, Lighting in Early Byzantium (Washington, DC, 2008) 13, fig. 15, and 100-101, no. 33.

3. Xanthopoulou 2010 (supra 1) no. LU 2.026, pl. 241.

4. Bouras and Parani 2008 (supra 2) 12-14.

5. E. D. Maguire, H. P. Maguire, and M. J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House, exh. cat., Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan (Urbana, 1989) 57; and D. M. Bailey, A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum 4: Lamps of Metal and Stone, and Lampstands (London, 1996) 107-108.

6. Such as that of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; see Bouras and Parani 2008 (supra 2) 31-36.

7. G. Galavaris, “Some Aspects of Symbolic Use of Lights in the Eastern Church: Candles, Lamps, and Ostrich Eggs,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 4.1 (1978): 69-78, esp. 73-74.

Helle Sachse

Publication History

"Pagan and Christian Egypt: Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century A.D." (1941), Brooklyn Museum, p. 33, no. 86, ill.

Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 194, no. 107, fig. 107.

Maria Xanthopoulou, Les lampes en bronze à l’époque paléochrétienne, Brepols (Turnhout, 2010), p. 290, no. LU 2.023.

Exhibition History

Pagan and Christian Egypt: Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century AD, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 01/23/1941 - 03/09/1941

Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu