Balsamarium in the Form of a Male Bust of Antinous - LA.568
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 100 AD to 200 AD
Dimensions: 7.75" (19.7cm) high
Collection: Classical Antiquities
Style: Hellenistic
Medium: Bronze


The balsamarium in the shape of the bust of Antinous has strong features, a deep brow, eyes inset, a stern nose and mouth. His hair somewhat long and gathered in thick waves falling across his forehead and down his neck. Around the neck, a simple but elegant torque. The bust covered with a tunic which falls on his left shoulder across his chest, secured with a long knotted strap.

This balsamarium, a richly detailed vessel for transporting oils and cosmetics to the baths, is a fully realised example of the Roman period. The artist of this work has included minute details and also has injected an emotional component into his rendition of the subject. It is as much a portrait as it is an everyday vessel, and today, a rich green patina adds depth to the work and enhances the smallest of details.

Balsamaria are a fascinating type of vessel, originating in Classical Greece and remaining a fertile vessel for innovation through the Hellenistic and Roman times. Some balsamaria were simple footed vessels, a modest receptacle in which to transport bath oils. Some were small but intricate, portraits of curious people or odd animals. In Alexandria in particular, the Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman bronzesmiths crafted vessels of striking realism as they sought to portray dwarves, Nubians, and other 'exotic' people. In the later years of the Roman Empire, the Gallic craftsmen created astonishingly detailed balsamaria using bronze, paste glass and fine millefiori enamel.

This balsamarium belongs to the finest sculptural tradition. It pursues an aesthetic path of naturalism, while not eschewing the idealism befitting an image as princely as this one.

Similar examples are indeed rare. One comes from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which shows a similar treatment of the eyes and nose, although it is less legible than ours.

For further references see: Comstock, M. and C. Vermeule, Greek Etruscan & Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1971; Los Bronces Romanos en Espana, Palacio de Velazques, Madrid, 1990; Jones, F. "A Bronze Head-Vase" Record of the Princeton University Art Museum, Vol 46.2, 1987: pp.17-23; Marti, V. "De l'usage des "balsamaires" anthropomorphes en bronze" MEFRA tome 108, 1996.2: pp.979-1000; Menzel H. Die Romischen Bronzen aus Detschland, III, Bonn, Mayence, 1968. - (LA.568)



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