The J. Paul Getty Museum

Statuette of a Seated Black African Youth

Object Details


Statuette of a Seated Black African Youth






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 seated nude youth, arm propped on one raised knee and head drowsily cradled in the palm of his hand. His dense curls, furrowed forehead, broad nose, and fleshy lips are features that ancient artists employed to characterize Black Africans. Believed to inhabit Aethiopia, a rich and powerful kingdom located south of Egypt, their dark complexion and woolly hair distinguished them from Mediterranean peoples. From the spool-shaped base, the figurine can be identified as an ornamental finial that originally crowned a candelabrum. The same finial on a complete example, which has a tall shaft and four prongs to hold candles, is in the Museo Etrusco Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome (inv. 24417). Reflected in candlelight, the somnolent figure was appropriate on luxury banquet bronzes that illuminated the shadowy interiors of Etruscan tombs and residences.

Images of crouching and slumbering youths derive from ancient Egyptian models and express various mythical and social identities. Occasionally the motif designates a reposing attendant or servant, but it often occurs on votive artifacts related to the nurturing of children and infant gods. Sculptors in the bronze workshops of Etruria adapted this schema for decorative appliqués on candelabra and torches used in religious ceremonies, as well as for knobs on lidded containers of perfume or incense. In the wealthy Etruscan burials that contained such figures, the visual allegory of sleep and reawakening may have been linked with Dionysian cult and the belief in rebirth and immortality in the Afterlife.

The Greek historian Herodotus described Aethiopians as tall, long-lived, and most handsome (Histories 3.114). Through trade and military alliance with Carthage, Etruscans were well acquainted with African communities. Consequently, they occupy a notable presence in the arts of cosmopolitan towns with international sanctuaries and commercial ports. On a water jar made in Caere (modern-day Cerveteri) with the myth of Herakles vanquishing Busiris, the vase-painter observantly illustrated Egyptian priests aided by African warriors. Temple roofs in Caere and its coastal sanctuary at Pyrgi were decorated with antefixes depicting the heads of Black Africans, female divinities, and Silens, perhaps symbolizing the expanse of the known world. In later Hellenistic and Roman art, however, mass-produced perfume flasks and oil lamps circulated stereotypical images of slumbering servants transformed into functional tools of the labors they were obliged to perform, such as holding lamps or attending to bathers. Versions of this iconography devolve into negative caricatures of the weary slave, as on a Roman handle in the shape of a baboon holding a lantern.

Further reading: For the Caeretan hydria (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. IV 3576) with Herakles and Busiris, see J. Hemelrijk, Caeretan Hydriae, 2009, pls. 118–25. The motif of dozing youths is discussed in J. Masséglia, Body Language in Hellenistic Art and Society, 2015, pp. 159–67. On the iconography of Aethiopians, in Hellenistic and Roman applied arts, see S. Bell, “Images and Interpretation of Africans in Roman Art and Social Practice.” In The Oxford Handbook of Roman Imagery and Iconography, L. K. Cline and N. T. Elkins, eds. 2021, pp. 425-63; and 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