The Casper B. Nervig Collection was donated to the Fine Arts Collection by Nora Josephine Halvorson in honor of her husband, Casper B. Nervig. The gift was facilitated in 1984 by their son, Luther Nervig (LC 1964). Casper Nervig assembled the 31 ancient oil lamps and two cruses during two trips to Jerusalem in 1965 and 1973, purchasing them from antiquities dealers. Richard Simon Hanson, former Professor of Religion at Luther College, with assistance from several reference sources and personnel at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem identified and dated the objects. The lamps and cruses date from approximately 3600 BCE to 800 AD and range from undecorated simple bowl or saucer shapes to more elaborate forms which are decorated with pressed designs.
The lamps in this collection are both wheel-made and mold-made from clay and fired in a
kiln. The lamps were all designed to hold oil, probably olive oil. A wick was leaned over
the edge of the bowl and when lit, provided protected and controllable light. Later lamps
had handles and one or more spouts. Eventually, the lamps developed into a one-piece,
closed form with two openings in the top which were for the wick and adding oil. The
more elaborate, sophisticated lamps were regarded as works of art, but also as functional
objects. Christian symbols began to appear on lamps in the 4th century. Large numbers of
these have been found around Jerusalem. Several lamps in the Fine Arts Collection are
decorated with Christian symbols such as crosses.
The lamps have been found throughout the Mediterranean geographical area extending
into Spain although those in the Nervig Collection were all collected and originated in
Palestine. It has been speculated that they were especially useful in the warm climate of
these areas where candles were problematic to use. Later lamps (ca. 800) returned again
to the simple bowl or saucer shape, perhaps reflecting the changing culture which lead to
the "Dark Ages."