The lamp in the Islamic world

9.3.1The proliferation of the Arabs and of Islam

By the second half of the 7th century AD, the exterior aspect of oil lamps had already begun to change significantly. In the initial Omeyyad muslim era, lamp design still derived from preceding models. Its oval molded shape was decorated with stylized raised patterns; a characteristic feature was a channel that ran in a straight line from the filler hole to the spout which held the wick. Later on, floral designs started to appear. These types of lamps are generally found in the Near East up to the 9th century AD.

10.1.51Succeeding Arab dynasties from the 10th to the 14th century AD, brought about numerous and continuous modifications of oil lamps. With entire regions repeatedly coming under control of different rulers and regimes, from Byzantine to Arab and vice versa, the potters evidently no longer knew what master to serve. The terracotta lamps that had been in use throughout the past 2000 years, gradually started to disappear. Lamps of entirely new shapes and designs took their place. Finds revealed lamps that were entirely open, with an elevated rim and only one spout. Subsequent designs introduced lamps with a long beak-shaped open spout and a semi-closed fuel container. These were, in turn, later replaced by Arab lamps which featured a pot-shaped fuel reservoir on top of a bulging base, with a relatively long spout and a neck topped by a collar to facilitate refilling. They appear in considerable number for more than a century. These lamps have one new and characteristic feature in common: they are made of crudely grained clay, essentially what we would nowadays call ceramics or faïence. Almost all of them are glazed in green or azure, rarely in beige, and are occasionally decorated by geometric lines in darker colors. Throughout these Islamic eras, the Arabs have produced objects of outstanding beauty, including wholly glazed oil lamps that are particularly admirable.