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Balsamarium in the Form of a Boxer's Head
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Unknown
Graeco-Roman, A.D. 2nd century
Bronze with silver
6 3/4 in.
2007.14

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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.


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