The balsamarium in the shape of the bust
features, a deep brow, eyes inset, a
nose and mouth. His hair somewhat long
and gathered in thick waves falling
his forehead and down his neck. Around
neck, a simple but elegant torque. The
covered with a tunic which falls on his
shoulder across his chest, secured with
long knotted strap.
This balsamarium, a richly detailed
transporting oils and cosmetics to the
is a fully realised example of the Roman
period. The artist of this work has
minute details and also has injected an
emotional component into his rendition
the subject. It is as much a portrait as
an everyday vessel, and today, a rich
patina adds depth to the work and
the smallest of details.
Balsamaria are a fascinating type of
originating in Classical Greece and
a fertile vessel for innovation through
Hellenistic and Roman times. Some
balsamaria were simple footed vessels, a
modest receptacle in which to transport
oils. Some were small but intricate,
of curious people or odd animals. In
Alexandria in particular, the
Graeco-Roman bronzesmiths crafted
of striking realism as they sought to
dwarves, Nubians, and other 'exotic'
In the later years of the Roman Empire,
Gallic craftsmen created astonishingly
detailed balsamaria using bronze, paste
and fine millefiori enamel.
This balsamarium belongs to the finest
sculptural tradition. It pursues an
path of naturalism, while not eschewing
the idealism befitting an image as
Similar examples are indeed rare. One
comes from the Museum of Fine Arts in
Boston, which shows a similar treatment
the eyes and nose, although it is less
For further references see: Comstock, M.
and C. Vermeule, Greek Etruscan & Roman
Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts,
1971; Los Bronces Romanos en Espana,
Palacio de Velazques, Madrid, 1990;
F. "A Bronze Head-Vase" Record of the
Princeton University Art Museum, Vol
1987: pp.17-23; Marti, V. "De l'usage
"balsamaires" anthropomorphes en bronze"
MEFRA tome 108, 1996.2: pp.979-1000;
Menzel H. Die Romischen Bronzen aus
Detschland, III, Bonn, Mayence, 1968.