The J. Paul Getty Museum

Statuette of a Seated Black African Boy

Object Details


Statuette of a Seated Black African Boy






Populonia, Etruria (Place Created)


450–425 B.C.



Object Number:



5.7 × 3.3 × 3.1 cm (2 1/4 × 1 5/16 × 1 1/4 in.)

Credit Line:

Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman

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Object Description

A solid-cast statuette depicts a nude youth on a spool-shaped base, which originally functioned as the finial on a candelabrum. His short curly hair, furrowed forehead, short broad nose, and fleshy lips identify him as a Black African. Seated in a posture of repose and leaning his arm on the raised left knee, the young man cradles his head in the palm of his hand.

Commonly understood as a slave sleepily awaiting his master, the image of a napping youth is an ancient Egyptian motif that was popularized in Greece and Italy through the trade in Egyptianizing artifacts made in Cyprus, Rhodes, and Ionia. In the fifth century BC, Etruscan sculptors in the bronze workshops of Vulci adapted this imagery for decorative appliqués on equipment used at banquets and the funeral meal, as well as for vessel knobs. Domestic slaves from transalpine Europe and other regions were common in Etruria, but enslaved Black Africans would have been luxury commodities, signaling the status and power of their owners. Their images leant an exotic element to implements that alluded to the tasks enslaved people performed. Candelabra, thymiateria (incense burners), oinochoai (wine pitchers) in the shape of Black African heads, and other anthropomorphic utensils referenced the labor of enslaved people and naturalized it in ornamental forms.

Black Africans’ dark complexion and features marked them as physically distinct from Mediterranean peoples. They were believed to inhabit the mythical region of Aethiopia, a rich kingdom at the southern fringes of the known world. Although Etruscans were well acquainted with North African communities through close commercial and military alliances with Carthage, Black people appear infrequently in Etruscan art. On a hydria (water jar) made in Caere (modern-day Cerveteri) with the myth of Herakles vanquishing the Egyptian king Busiris (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. IV 3576), the vase-painter depicted both stereotyped caricatures of Egyptian priests and realistic portrayals of African warriors. Temple roofs in Caere and its port-sanctuary of Pyrgi were also decorated with antefixes and architectural sculptures depicting Black African faces. Those images as well as the bronze statuettes of a napping slave produced in nearby Vulci witness the influence of international cultural exchanges on the arts of southern Etruria.

Further reading: The motif of a dozing African is discussed in J. Masséglia, Body Language in Hellenistic Art and Society, 2015, pp. 159–67. On slavery in Etruria, see D. N. Briggs, “Servants at a Rich Man’s Feast: Early Etruscan Household Slaves and their Procurement,” Etruscan Studies 9, 2002, pp. 153–76. For the Caeretan hydria in Vienna with Herakles and Busiris, see J. Hemelrijk, Caeretan Hydriae, 2009, pls. 118–25. Architectural terracottas in the shape of African heads and other depictions of Black Africans in the arts of Etruria are illustrated in M. L. Gualandi, “L'immagine dei neri nel mondo greco e romano: spunti per un'interpretazione del mosaico di Populonia,” in C. Mascione and A. Patera, Materiali per Populonia 2, 2003, pp. 199–229.  On  images of enslaved individuals in the applied arts, see N. Lenski, “Working Models: Functional Art and Roman Conceptions of Slavery,” in M. George ed., Roman Slavery and Roman Material Culture, 2013, pp. 129–57.

- 1988

Robin Symes (London, England), sold to Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, 1988.

1988 - 1996

Barbara Fleischman and Lawrence Fleischman, American, 1925 - 1997 (New York, New York), donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996.

A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman (October 13, 1994 to April 23, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 13, 1994 to January 15, 1995
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland), February 14 to April 23, 1995
Ancient Art from the Permanent Collection (March 16, 1999 to May 23, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 16, 1999 to May 23, 2004
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past (August 23, 2003 to December 5, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), September 14 to December 5, 2004