The Illuminated Night

Opening: November 15, 2019 – 2nd Floor, Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College

Night and darkness are universal experiences; their power all the more evident in a world without artificial light. Lamps are objects of that darkness; they are made to illuminate, to create light in dark places both physically and metaphorically. Their function is defined in opposition to darkness. The Illuminated Night explores how lamps were used to combat different manifestations of darkness in the ancient Mediterranean world (ca. 8th cent. BCE – 6th cent. CE). 

Lamps illuminated their surroundings. They guided their users through ritual. Their iconography and materiality created and codified identities. While the interplay between light and darkness across these categories becomes less and less tangible, it is always present. This presentation seeks to elucidate the ways in which this interaction was made manifest through the harnessing of light.

This multidisciplinary investigation brings together archaeological artifacts, artistic representations, and classical texts which evoke the utilitarian, ritual, and symbolic uses of light. Throughout the gallery, the term “lamp” stands in for similar objects of controlled light, including both oil lamps and torches. The objects on display, drawn from Bryn Mawr College’s Art and Artifacts Collections, are limited in terms of their geographic and chronological extent. These categories of light and dark, however, transcend time and space. As night is irresistible and dark is ageless, a performance piece, A History of Darkfinding by Nishat Hossain was commissioned to explore this interplay in a contemporary medium.