Dish-Shaped Lamps

"St. Luke Reading by Lamplight"
10th century A.D. Byzantine Gospel

Shallow, dimpled wine cup
Mid 4th century A.D.

Many Medieval ecclesiastical manuscripts depict saints and monks reading by the light of a shallow dish-shaped lamp, rather than a conical one. The natural perspective of these lamps often was flattened out by the illuminator.

In one image of St. Luke writing his gospel, the lamp is connected to a pulley system, so that it could be raised or lowered for convenience. This dish-shaped lamp may well have derived from a shallow drinking cup that became quite popular in northwestern Europe in the mid 4th century A.D.