Flask in the Form of a Head of a Black African Man, 100-300
Egypt, Al Fayyūm
4 1/8 × 2 7/8 × 3 5/8 in. (10.5 × 7.3 × 9.2 cm)
This small figural vase probably once held perfumed oil and may have been used in the context of bathing. The placement of the hole in the open mouth of the figure means the vessel could only hold a small amount of liquid without spilling. The highly exaggerated features of the figure classify it as a caricature, rather than a naturalistic portrait. Such caricatures may have represented the exotic and luxurious nature of the contents of the vessel or served as a figural stand-in for a foreign servant or slave.
This particular vessel is believed to be from Egypt, and it is said to have once been part of the collection of Dr. Daniel Marie Fouquet (1850–1914), a French doctor based in Cairo who amassed a large collection of antiquities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While this vessel does not appear in the 1921 published catalogue of part of the collection, there is a curious number written in black ink on the base: “2785.” The handwriting of the number matches others in the Menil Collection that were acquired at the same time and belonged to Dr. Fouquet. The number, written directly on the object, has been confirmed through archival records as the inventory number of the object in Dr. Fouquet’s collection.