Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA - Lamp with the Head of a Nubian; Fitchburg Historical Society, Fitchburg, MA – Civil War-Era Lantern
Although different in shape and composition, both of these lanterns have a deeper significance to Nubian culture and African-American culture. In the Nubian culture, they often carved important objects into figures that they valued. They were inspired by animals and almost worshipped them for their usefulness, relying on them for their survival. Therefore, they carved most of their weapons, and other tools into shapes of animals such as a crocodile or a lion head. This correlation, however, also goes the other way. Ancient cultures heavily relied on light, whether it be from the sun itself or from their handmade lanterns when the sun set. Without replicating the light of the sun using these lanterns, they would be restricted to only the sun’s beams. Light was a huge advantage to this culture. To highlight the lantern’s impact in their lives, such as they did with many objects, they decorated these lanterns. They sculpted these items with symbolism as a way to preserve the value it had on their culture. For them to depict the face of a Nubian person tells us they had a story to tell the world, about their people and about their culture. Art in the ancient world typically tells a story about a civilization's way of life. (The lantern depicted is from the 2nd-4th century.)
We can say the same for the Civil War lantern in the Fitchburg Historical Society. The use of light itself is symbolic during this period because it was a sign of hope, a way to light the way into a brighter future. Lighting the way with the guide of the moon, and the lantern itself, was an important theme with the Underground Railroad slaves, such as depicted in DeMisty D. Bellinger’s poems. The value of such a lantern today is not just the lantern, or what it was made out of. Such as the Nubian lamp, the value that the lantern had in their lives shows us more about their experiences and who they were. Slaves in search of freedom relied on such light to bring them forward to freedom; they followed the light’s path. Lanterns, in addition, were used as a signal for safe houses, to let slaves know the place was safe to take shelter. It is symbolic to preserve these lanterns because it preserves the experience, and it allows us to put ourselves in their shoes, to illuminate their journeys.
Ikram, Salima. “From Food to Furniture: Animals in Ancient Nubia." In Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile. Eds. M. Fisher, P. Lacovara, S. Ikram, and S. D'Auria. Cairo: AUC Press, 2012. 210-228.
“Underground Railroad: A Path to Freedom.” Eastern Illinois University, www.eiu.edu/eiutps/underground_railroad.php.
,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed January 27, 2020, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/71.