Vase (Balsamarium) in the Form of a Bust of a Black African Man, 300 BCE-300 CE
Hellenistic or Roman
Egypt, possibly Memphis, Al Ashmunayn
3 ¾ × 2 ¼ × 2 ¼ in. (9.5 × 5.7 × 5.7 cm)
3-D Object/Sculpture
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This terracotta in the form of a male bust is a type of vessel known as a balsamarium. The vase probably once contained scented oil. It was made with a two-part mold, the seam of which is partially visible near the base. The figure turns his face to the left, tilting his head in a pensive pose. He is clean shaven and has naturalistic facial features in comparison to other, more exaggerated figures from this period. He is identified as a Black African (sometimes called a Nubian by scholars). The figure has short curly hair, illustrated around the edges of the hooded garment, with some of the original red pigment still visible at the bottom. The top of his hood comes to a point that serves as the vessel opening. There are also small, pierced handles on either side of the opening. Like several other balsamaria (plural of balsamarium) in the collection, it likely had a leather strap for the object to be suspended or worn around the wrist.