Illuminating the Past: Utilitarian Ceramics of the Ancient World

Illuminating the Past Exhibition August 27-December 14

In 2013, the Miami University Art Museum (MUAM) received a donation of ancient ceramics from Harvey and Deborah Breverman of Buffalo, New York. Their donation includes one-hundred and thirty-one ancient ceramic and bronze pieces, produced 1800 BCE–1500 CE. Consisting primarily of seventy-eight oil lamps, the collection includes small figural pieces, utilitarian vessels and several bronze items from Greece, Italy, the eastern Mediterranean, Israel, Byzantium, Egypt and Cyprus, among other locations.

Illuminating the Past explores the production and use, historical typology, iconography, cultural references, numismatic connections, and the evolution of such ancient ceramics. While oil lamps were ubiquitous throughout the ancient Mediterranean world and actively studied by humanities scholars over the past century, they are less well recognized by the museum-going public. The presentation of these objects presents a unique opportunity to view this often overlooked segment of ancient pottery used in the daily life of peoples from long ago.


Roman Oil Lamp, 2nd-3rd century CE
Gift of Harvey & Deborah Breverman

North Africa Oil Lamp, 1st century CE
Gift of Harvey & Deborah Breverman

Greek Lekythos Vase, ca. 500 BCE
Gift of Harvey & Deborah Breverman

10 a.m.-5 p.m. | Saturday Noon-5p.m.


Erin Adelman | Yiwen Bai | Charlee Biddle Isobella Dale | Matt Faccenda | Maria Jose DeSantiago Galan | Nathaniel Hieber | Sydney Hill | Grant Jurden | McCarthy Knepshield Victor Kurz | Kayla Olmsted | Lilia Theobald Macy Whitaker | Aubrey Woodard
Dr. Steve Tuck-Professor | Jay Zumeta-Advisor

Related Programming

NOTE: Gallery hours are extended during any program held after 5 p.m.Exhibition Lecture

Lamps and Leadpipes: Identifying Makers & Locating Roman Lamp Factories

Steve Tuck, Professor, Department of Classics

Wed, Oct 9, 4:30 PM

This lecture offered in conjunction with the exhibition, Illuminating the Past: Utilitarian Ceramics of the Ancient World, will focus on lamps, their makers’ marks (the names stamped on the bottom) and how we can use these, along with other evidence, to locate lamp factories in the ancient world.

All Programs are FREE & OPEN TO ALL and held at the Art Museum (unless noted otherwise).

Symposium: Illuminating the Past: Utilitarian Ceramics of the Ancient World

Sat, Oct 19, 9 AM-5 PM ~ Miami University Art Museum

A Free - all day event featuring speakers and subject matter experts in the fields of Classics, Anthropology, Archeology, Religion and Art History for an up close look into the ancient ceramics (oil lamps and vessels) from the Mediterranean region featured in the current exhibition of over 40 pieces. Illuminating the Past: Utilitarian Ceramics of the Ancient World, the exhibition is on display at the Miami University Art Museum August 27-December 14, 2019.

8:30 AM - Registration

9:00 AM - Welcome/Introduction

9:15 AM - Juliet Graver Istrabadi, Art History ~ Curator of Art of the Ancient World, Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art

Ancient Art from the Domestic Sphere: A Museum Perspective

Objects such as lamps, cups, flasks, utensils, keys, locks, weights, and scales tell us a great deal about the ancient world. However, these works of art are small and easily overlooked within collections of larger, more easily recognized objects. This presentation will consider a variety of ways that domestic art can be used in museum settings to spark greater interest in the art itself and the role that it plays in helping us understand the past.

10:30 AM - Michael Fuller, Anthropology ~ Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at St. Louis Community College

Utilitarian ceramics from the Medieval Period at Tell Tuneinir, Syria

Hundreds of day-to-day ceramic objects such as lamps, cooking vessels, plates, and storage jars were documented over 16 field seasons of research in the Medieval occupation layers at the site of Tell Tuneinir, Syria. Several loci at Tuneinir contained everyday objects that were buried as a result of conflicts in Mesopotamia involving the Abbasids (AD 750 -1055), Seljuks (AD 1040 - 1194), Ayyubids (AD 1171 - 1260), and Il-kanids (AD 1256 - 1335).

11:30 AM-1:00 PM - Lunch on your own (Western Dining Hall & Maple Street Station)

1:00 PM - Reconvene

1:15 PM - Kathleen Lynch, Classical Art & Archaeology ~ Professor, Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

Pottery for the People and by the People: Ancient Ceramic Vessels and their Cultural Contexts

Pottery is the most common artifact recovered from archaeological excavations in the ancient Greek and Roman Mediterranean. This paper will discuss how ceramicists study pottery to understand ancient cultural values and behavior. From production to function to trade, every step in the life of pottery conveys information about the people who made it and used it. Examples from ancient Greece and featuring objects from the Breverman Collection will illustrate the talk.

2:30 PM - Eric Lapp, Religion/Near East Archaeology ~ Adjunct Faculty Instructor, Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC)

From Curiosity to Lychnology: A Brief History on the Renaissance Origins 

of Ancient Lamp Studies

The earliest years of Roman lamp acquisition in Western culture for cabinets of curiosity were first indicated in illustrated 16th and 17th century manuscripts and catalogs as well as the lamp's portrayal in early 17th century Flemish paintings. The paper traces the artifact type as an object of status to its scientific analysis for archaeological purposes and the emergence of the discipline of lychnology.

3:45 PM - Robyn Le Blanc, Archaeology ~ Assistant Professor, Department of Classical Studies, University of North Carolina - Greensboro

Show Me The Money!: Decorated Roman Savings Banks

How did the Romans store and collect their coins? The evidence of coin hoard containers and lock boxes demonstrate that coinage might be placed in a variety of utilitarian repositories for both temporary and long-term storage. Beginning with a brief survey of banks and small treasuries from the Greek and Hellenistic periods, this talk will explore the form and function of Roman ceramic savings banks. In particular, we will focus on decorated varieties, which often included architectural elements and images of deities and animals.

4:45 PM - Concluding Remarks

5:00-6:30 PM - Reception


The Symposium is organized by:
Dr. Steve Tuck, Professor, Department of Classics, Miami University
Jay Zumeta, Professor Emeritus, Art History, Art Academy of Cincinnati
Laura Stewart, Collections Manager/Registrar, Miami University Art Museum
Jason E. Shaiman, Curator of Exhibitions, Miami University Art Museum

Symposium co-sponsored with:

Department of Classics, Miami University

Miami University Humanities Center

Archaeological Institute of America

Miami University Art Museum

The Kress Foundation