Roman Balsamarium Depicting Antinous

SKU LA.504



100 AD to 200 AD


10.2″ (25.9cm) high





Gallery Location



The body of this deluxe unguent container, termed a balsamarium in Latin, consists of a heroic nude bust of a sensuous young man. His features are rendered in the classical, idealizing idiom and are characterized by thin, bushy eye- browns which merge at the root of the nose. His small, almond-shaped eyes are framed by wide lids, and the lips of his sensual mouth are both small and fleshy. He is shown wearing a thick necklace to which is attached a cylindrically- shaped phylactery of a type which contained a written prayer.

His head is turned slightly to his right. His hair is styled in thick, horizontal bands of wavy locks, the crown of which, separately made, serves as the container’s lid; this is hinged to the back of the vessel. The handle is designed as a foliate central element which duck-headed finials at each end set into oblique loops attached to the top of the head. A central strut connects the handle to the lid. A separately made pedestal, no longer extant, probably served as pedestal to support the balsamarium in an upright position.

Our balsamarium is an aesthetically accomplished work of art and belongs to a type which depicts a number of heroic nude youths, traditionally identified as either divinities or mortals. Our example has been identified as Antinous, the favorite of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Antinous committed suicide by drowning himself in the River Nile in order to fulfill an oracle which had been unfavorable to Hadrian.


E. Kitzinger, Handbook of the Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks (Washingto, D.C., 1967), no. 99, for a related example; and J. Arce, Los Bronces en Espãna (Madrid 1990), nos. 259- 262

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