Balsamarium in the Form of a Boxer's Head

Object Details


Balsamarium in the Form of a Boxer's Head






Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt (?) (Place created)


2nd century A.D.


Bronze with silver


17.1 × 15 cm (6 3/4 × 5 7/8 in.)

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Wearing a tight leather helmet, this ancient boxer grimaces fiercely and aggressively confronts the viewer. A curled lip reveals the gaps of missing teeth. His expression causes muscles in his face to stand out along his jaw, cheeks, neck, temples and forehead. His cheeks are clean-shaven, but small tufts of hair bristle at the corners of his mouth.

Originally, his eyes and teeth were inlaid with silver, and a handle was attached to the holes on either side of his head. A balsamarium or situla was a container for holding ointments or oils. Athletes often used such unguents after practice or competition, thus, the head of a boxer is an especially appropriate choice for this type of vessel.

This vessel is characteristic of ancient bronze and terracotta genre figures, figures from everyday life. Seeking to reflect their experience of the world, artists of this period created grotesques--caricatures of fishermen, old women, shepherds, athletes, dwarves, and slaves--in contrast to classical forms. While this head may be a portrait of a real boxer, it is just as likely to reflect the sculptor's concept of what a boxer should look like.

- 1888

Henri Hoffmann, 1823 - 1897 (Paris, France) [sold, Catalogue des objets d'art antiques, vases peints, marbres, bronzes, argenterie, poids grecs, ivoires, expert M.H. Hoffmann, Hotel Drouot, Paris, lot 416.]

by 1892 - 1898

Count Michel Tyszkiewicz, Polish, 1828 - 1897 (Paris, France) [sold, Collection d'antiquites du Comte Michel Tyszkiewicz, Hotel Drouot, Paris, June 8-10, 1898, lot 153.]

1898 -

Henri Hoffmann, 1823 - 1897 (Paris, France)


Gawain MacKinley (France), sold to Thomas Howard Sneyd.

- 2003

Thomas Howard Sneyd (London, England), sold to Dr. David Greenberg, 2003.


Dr David Greenberg (Chicago, Illinois), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007.


Hotel Drouot, Paris. Catalogue des Objets D'Art Antiques, par W. Froehner. May 28-29, 1888, p. 113, lot 416, plate XXXII.

Froehner, Wilhelm. La Collection Tyszkiewicz: choix de monuments antiques (Munich: Verlagsanstalt fur kunst und Wissenschaft, 1892), pp. 34-35, pl. 36.

Hotel des Commissaires-Priseurs, Paris. Collection D'Antiquites du Comte Michel Tyszkiewicz. June 8-10, 1898, p. 55, lot 153, plate XIX.

Snitkuvienė, Aldona. Biržų grafai Tiškevičiai ir jų Palikimas. (Kaunas : Nacionalinis M. K. Čiurlionio dailės muziejus, 2008), p. 285, no. 1124, ill.

Tovar, Carrie. "Battered but Unbeaten: A New Getty Acquisition." Apollo 167, iss. 551 (February 2008), pp. 62-67, figs. 1-4.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 196.

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