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Ancient Greek Amulet of a Young Crouching African
New York | Amulets
 
Date:  3rd Century BC2nd Century BC
Culture:  GreekHellenistic Greek
Category:  Amulets
Medium:  Bronze
Dimension: H: 4.7 cm
Price: $24,500.00
Provenance: Acquired on the European art market, 2001.
Serial No: 14413

The solid cast figurine is partially covered in an attractive green patina. The circular hole, certainly ancient, pierced between the cheeks and the legs would have been used to suspend the object from a small chain. It may have been an amulet that onecould have worn as a pendant or possibly, one that could have been suspended from a belt - in spite of the flattened, regular shape of the base, this figurine cannot stand on its own.
The amulet represents a crouching boy with negroid features: his buttocks and feet are placed on the ground, his bent legs are drawn up to his chest, the head is slightly inclined to the right. The left hand is posed on the knee while the right, placed against the cheek, cradles the head. The young man is clothed in a small loincloth tied around his waist, which does not cover his genitals. In spite of the miniature size of this piece, the forms and the posture are rendered in a very realistic and observant manner, particularly concerning the musculature of the back, the features of the face and the folds of the fabric. The hair, arranged in large cylindrical curls, the wide flat face, and the broad flattened nose are all elements that allow us to identify this figure from first glance as a young African: the closed eyes and the head resting in the hand suggest that he may have settled himself on a street corner while waiting for his master, or that he is enjoying a moment of peace between the different chores assigned to him as a domestic slave.
Iconographically, this figurine belongs to a well known genre, the earliest examples of which are from the beginning of the Classical period and are known to us only through terracottas (Rhodes) and cameos. But it is at the end of the 3rd century B.C. and during the following Roman Period that this iconographical type enjoyed great popular success: the absence of precise references in the written sources indicate that the ancients may have used different images of young crouching Africans. If some examples served as amulets and good-luck charms, then others seem to have been toys (for example, among the objects found in a Roman tomb of a child discovered in Corinth, there was a terracotta rattle modeled in the form of a young crouching African who is sleeping), small vessels (perhaps for ink) even as appliqués or small handles for tripods or vessels, etc.