Ancient Art Week!
Various Roman Sculptures
Out of the many works of art that survive from Roman times, some only exist as fragments. I wanted to share some of these fragments with you all because I think a lot of people underestimate just how many images of Romans of color exist.
Some of these are from Roman Egypt, some are copies of Greek originals, some are actually small vases or perfume bottles, but each one has been determined to be a Black person by the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University and included in their Image of the Black in Western Art collection.
On the heels of the conversation (controversy?) yesterday about Sleeping Black Man and some of the questions asked that may not have been answered (or have answers), I wanted to showcase how diverse these pieces are, and how different from each other they look. They come from all walks of life, are of various ages, and each one seems highly individual, rather than of a type. Some may be portraits. Some may be intended as caricatures or amusing pieces, like the old man sticking out his tongue.
Roman terracottas were produced everywhere from England to Egypt, and each area has its own distinct styles.The small bottles, called unguentariums or balsamariums, are debated within academic circles as to what they were actually used for. The marbles are most likely portraits, but usually descriptions or textual analogs for individual sculptures don’t survive.
1. Bust of a black man or woman with tight corkscrew curls, painted eyes, and slightly open mouth. Roman, 2nd half II century A.D. Marble. Napoli, Museo Nazionale.
2. Head of an Egyptian man with a large lump on top of his head, which is shaved except for a braid (?) hanging down the back. Roman, early IV century A.D. Marble. Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.
3. Head of a black youth with tight curls and slightly open mouth (nose and chin damaged). Roman, n.d. Gray Basalt, 20 cm. Napoli, Museo Nazionale.
4. Bust of a black man; part of top and back of head missing. Roman, Imperial Period. Bronze, 8.6 cm. London, Collection of Herbert James Powell Bomford.
5. Balsamarium in form of a bust of a black youth wearing a necklace. Roman, n.d. Bronze, 13 cm. Musée national du Louvre, Département des Antiquités grecques et romaines.
6. Statuette fragment: Head of a black man or woman with a diadem encircling a voluminous coiffure. Roman, 1st. Century B.C.E. Terracotta. Cittá del Vaticano, Musei Vaticani, Museo Gregoriano Egizio.
7. Head of an old man sticking out his tongue. Roman, n.d. Terracotta. Houston, Texas, Menil Foundation Collection.
8. Head of a laughing man wearing a smooth beret. Roman, 1st. Century B.C.E. Terracotta, 3.9 cm. Houston, Texas, Menil Foundation Collection.
9. Statuette (fragment): Head of a black man with puffed-out cheeks. Roman Egypt, n.d. Terracotta, 4.2 cm. London, British Museum, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
10. Statuette fragment: head of a child. Roman, n.d. Terracotta, 3.4 cm. Houston, Texas, Menil Foundation Collection.