Lamp of Knowledge

Lamp of Knowledge, Fourteenth century
13 x 16.2 (cm)
Society of Antiquaries of London

Richmond 1950; Piggott 1951, p. 74; Emanuel 2000; London 2007, no. 32
full bibliography (pdf)
 This lamp was adopted by the Society as its emblem in 1770. It is depicted on the Society's publications and represented in brass on the floor of its entrance hall at Burlington House, London. It is often accompanied by a Latin inscription non extinguetur, translated as 'not to be extinguished', drawing an analogy between the lamp and the belief in knowledge and discovery that lies at the heart of the Society's activities.

The lamp was presented to the Society in 1736 by Sir Hans Sloane, an eminent physician and collector, whose later bequest to the nation helped to form the basis of the British Museum. It was the subject of the first engraving issued to members in 1718, the original drawings for which were executed by the Society's director John Talman. The base is not original to the lamp, but was added before the first drawings were made, when it was believed to be a table lamp.

At first the lamp was presumed to be Roman; it was found at St Leonard's Hill, Windsor, in 1717 together with various Roman remains, and closely resembles oil lamps discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum. However, it is now known to be medieval and recent research suggests it may be Jewish; lamps similar to this were lit every Friday evening in preparation for the Sabbath day of rest. Originally designed to be suspended, the lamp would have had a drip-pan hanging below the burners to collect leaking oil.